Why It Is Time for Ma'a Nonu and New Zealand to Split
It has been a quick fall from grace for New Zealand centre Ma'a Nonu, and it is time the All Blacks started planning for his replacement.
Nonu was arguably the best back in the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup-winning team, but he now finds himself unwanted at Super 15 level and forced to look overseas to continue his career.
The powerful centre has always had problems with consistency, particularly in the Super 15 where he has hardly fired a shot in recent years. After three terrible seasons with three different teams, no club is willing to take on the superstar.
Despite his ability to find form for the All Blacks, moving abroad could signal the end of his international career as he will no longer be eligible to play for New Zealand if he leaves the country. But he may yet be forced to do.
Nonu has struggled in 2013 and even for the All Blacks has hardly flattered himself.
Discipline is the biggest black mark on his game, as he seems intent on delivering cheap shots as much as tackles. His yellow card last weekend for a shoulder charge on South Africa skipper Jean de Villiers was the latest in a series of ill-disciplined tackles this season.
On all but one of these occasions Nonu has spent time on the sidelines, where he is no good to the team. He is effectively deciding not to be on the field for 10 minutes. Who would want someone like this on the team?
Nonu's running game, once so strong, has hardly looked threatening this year. There is no step to expose a weak-shoulder in the tackler; he is just crashing the ball up. This is okay at times, but it gets far too predictable, especially when other players offer more.
Two years ago Nonu was rock-solid in defence and formed a brick wall with midfield partner Conrad Smith. This year he hasn't been so safe, falling off tackles and being out of position so that he gets beaten too often.
His kicking has improved and has provided the All Blacks with some good attacking positions this year. This that stood out in what was a fairly dour performance against the Springboks.
But picking a player for a couple of good kicks is hardly worthwhile when there are other younger players who are playing just as well.
Nonu has come full-circle. He had many detractors early in his career when he was in and out of the All Blacks set-up. He had a tendency to rush up in defence, his decision-making in attack was questionable and his discipline was an issue.
However, he came right and did so in a big way, learning how best to use his abilities and, more importantly, how to make the right decisions.
His form between 2009 and 2011 was of the highest class and made him one of the world's best No. 12. A constant threat in attack, a good passer and a strong defender, there was little that he could be knocked for.
Nonu played a key role in the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup win. He was arguably their most threatening back and took on more responsibility when Daniel Carter was ruled out with a groin injury.
In 2012 his form wasn't quite that of the year before, but he still warranted All Black selection after the departure of Sonny Bill Williams. Despite a disastrous Super 15 season with the Blues, he played his role in an All Black team that went unbeaten until their final game of the season.
Nonu is a difficult to rate in terms of all-time great New Zealand inside centres. At his finest he is up there with the best. His exploits at the World Cup will ensure he will be remembered, but his lack of consistency over the years will count against him.
Does he rate as highly as Walter Little or Bert Cooke? Probably not, but he is arguably the equal of any other All Black No. 12.
Every player has his time. Nonu has been playing at the top for over a decade and his days in the black jersey are numbered. He has struggled with a niggling injury all year which has affected his ability to perform, particularly in defence.
As athletes get older these injuries are harder to recover from.
With Francis Saili and Ryan Crotty involved in the All Blacks set-up this year there is some good talent coming through. The possible return of Sonny Bill Williams also means there is a genuine superstar in the picture for 2014.
Nonu has had a good run, but it has got to end. His best are behind him and in the interests of New Zealand rugby, now is the time for another player to fill his boots.
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