Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Nonu finally looking refreshed and ready to go, says Lam

Ma'a Nonu. Picture / Brett Phibbs.
Ma'a Nonu. Picture / Brett Phibbs.

It's too late for the Blues, but Pat Lam's glowing report on Ma'a Nonu's new-found fitness is good news for the All Blacks coaches.

As speculation grows that Sonny Bill Williams is about to announce a shift to the Panasonic club in Japan, fellow second-five Nonu's stocks are rising ahead of the inaugural Rugby Championship which starts on August 18, two weeks after the Super Rugby final.

With Nonu going from the World Cup to his own stint in Japanese club rugby and then to the Blues, the five weeks he has had out of the game thanks to the test window - he wasn't used by the All Blacks despite being named in the squad - and last weekend's Super Rugby bye, has made all the difference.

Blues coach Lam said the constant injuries to the Blues' backs during a wretched season saw Nonu playing more than intended but he has reported for the final two games of the season a different player.

"When I saw him I said 'wow, look at you'. He had a big smile on his face and physically he's looking in great nick, trimmed down, and raring to go," Lam said. "I think mentally and physically, anyone who plays for 18 months - there's not many people who can do that. For him I think it's been a great break and he gets a chance to have two good hit-outs and gets another break while we're not in the play-offs and builds up for the Rugby Championship. He's in a really good space at the moment."

For the Blues, the finish of the season can't come soon enough. Their final home match of the season comes on Saturday night when they host the Force at Eden Park and they end with a tough fixture against the Brumbies in Canberra a week later.

Lam welcomes back hooker and captain Keven Mealamu from his troublesome calf injury which has kept him out since the defeat by the Sharks at Eden Park on April 13, but that news has been tempered by yet another long-term casualty.

Outside back Rudi Wulf is the latest to be ruled out for the rest of the season. Wulf's shoulder which he fractured a month ago, hasn't healed and he has been booked in for surgery on Wednesday. He will be out of the game for up to eight months but is likely to play a part for Auckland in the ITM Cup.

New Zealand sevens player Charles Piutau has been drafted in as cover, with former Blues first-five Orene Ai'i brought in for the injured Gareth Anscombe.

For Mealamu, who made his return to the game when playing the second half of the All Blacks' third test win over Ireland in Hamilton, it's an occasion to savour.

"I can't put it into words," he said of his frustrating spell on the sidelines. "It's been really tough, it's just nice to be about to get out there and not think about the injury.

"It probably would have been a two or three-week [injury], but I kept on rushing it back ... I think I re-injured it twice which made it so long.

"It was probably silly on my behalf, but it was just the situation we were in. I wanted to get back as soon as possible."

- APNZ

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