Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: I haven't peaked yet, Nonu

Midfield marvel sets up tries and has Blues on track despite not being at full fitness

Blues midfielder Ma'a Nonu, supported by Simon Hickey, has been a revelation this season. Photo / Getty Images
Blues midfielder Ma'a Nonu, supported by Simon Hickey, has been a revelation this season. Photo / Getty Images

Ma'a Nonu, a revelation for the Blues since his return to the franchise, is in the Super rugby form of his life, and has good news for All Black supporters wondering if he can keep this up for the whole year.

"I haven't peaked yet," he said after leading the way for the Blues in their 44-14 victory over the Reds at Eden Park on Friday. "I'm still lagging behind in terms of my fitness."

The midfielder has slowly built his way into the season after his late start when rehabilitating an ankle injury. A calf problem on the eve of the Hurricanes match in Wellington ruled him out of that defeat but his excellent performance a week later in the victory over the Waratahs at Eden Park went up several levels against the Reds.

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He had a hand in the Blues' first four tries - directly in the case of the first three - and was a constant menace with the ball. His passing or kicking finesse is providing the finishing touches but it is his physical presence that is drawing the attention of the defence.

Blues coach John Kirwan took a gamble accepting Nonu back into the franchise after he left for the Highlanders last year, but he appears to have hit the jackpot.

With 21-year-old Simon Hickey finding his feet at first-five and a constant series of injuries outside him - Francis Saili is out for at least another six weeks with his high ankle sprain and Jackson Willison is out for at least four after tearing a hamstring in the act of scoring against the Reds - it's Nonu who is providing the super-strength glue holding it all together.

"I really wanted to start the year better than I have the last couple of years in terms of Super rugby," Nonu said.

Watch: Rugby Highlights: Blues 44 Reds 14

"I'm not trying to do everything at once. I know I'm probably the most experienced guy in the backline but I'm just trying to work with whoever is around me in terms of combinations. We have a new first-five [Hickey], I'm trying to help him, he's going really well. It's not easy the chopping and changing outside me. I haven't had a standard centre since Francis [Saili] was ruled out. I'm just building, I wouldn't say it's perfect."

Nonu, who turns 32 in a fortnight, can be a polarising figure. That's believed to be the reason behind his forced exit from the Hurricanes, under Mark Hammett. But in a team reeling from the Benji Marshall distraction, it is Nonu who is leading from the front, a breakthrough for him and the Blues.

"There haven't been any fingers pointing at me," he said of the public's reaction. "I always try to play my best every year, it's just a shame that the sides I've played at have struggled over the past few years, and I'm part of that too. I am going to get judged in that way and you have to take it."

- APNZ

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