Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: High level talks over Nonu

He's the only All Black without a Super 15 contract as franchises and coaches work through 'issues'

Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith is optimistic a solution will be found to the Ma'a Nonu problem.

Smith revealed yesterday that the NZRU had talked to coach Mark Hammett about Nonu's return to the capital but there were "a few things to be worked through".

The All Black second five-eighths is in Super 15 limbo after falling out with the Highlanders following similar spats with the Blues and Hurricanes and no interest from the Crusaders or Chiefs.

Hammett had quizzed Smith about the prospect.

"He said the NZRU had approached them, so the issue had not come to a head at that stage but they had obviously been sounded out and he just wanted to get my opinion," Smith said as the All Black training squad gathered in Auckland. "It was literally a two-minute conversation."

A Hurricanes spokesperson said last night: "We can confirm that the NZRU has spoken to us about Ma'a. At this stage we have no further update."

Did Smith expect Nonu to be at the Hurricanes in 2014?

"I don't know. That's obviously why it is taking as long as it has, there's a bit to go through and like I say I don't know where it is going to end up. But I think there would have to be a bit of shifting on his [Nonu's] account but I am always an optimist and think that can be done but like I say I don't know what is going to happen or where it will get to."

It was a strange situation to have a senior All Black without a Super 15 portfolio.

"It is pretty unique and I don't think it will happen a lot but I am optimistic it will get to a good conclusion and there are just a few things that have to be worked through in the meantime."

Smith was asked about Nonu a month ago and said he would leave the decision to the midfield back. A number of issues were involved and there was a bigger picture to be worked through.

Smith anticipated he would be asked about the issue again in the next few weeks.

"That is obviously being dealt with at a high level and I can honestly say I don't know where it's got to or where it's at."

It was a strange situation.

All Black coach Steve Hansen said High-level talks on Nonu's return to Hurricanes

he had never had any issues with Nonu but he always needed to be at his best to be chosen in his teams.

Meanwhile, Smith said the Hurricanes were keen to retain off contract five-eighths Beauden Barrett but he needed space to make his choice and his captain wanted to give him that room.

Experienced international forward Tony Woodcock will step into new territory this month when he becomes the first prop to play 100 tests for the All Blacks. Woodcock has accumulated his caps since a 2002 debut against Wales when five others also made their All Black debuts.

Keven Mealamu began his hooking career that same afternoon and remains with the All Blacks while the others, Rodney So'oialo, Regan King, Daniel Braid and Paul Steinmetz, have dropped off the radar.

Woodcock needs two more caps to reach the ton and should claim that mark this month in successive tests against the Wallabies to open the Rugby Championship.

If Woodcock stays fit he will join captain Richie McCaw, Mils Muliaina, and Mealamu as the only members of the exclusive club.

All Black coach Steve Hansen confirmed yesterday that Wyatt Crockett would need four to six weeks to mend a medial knee ligament strain after starting each of the June tests against France.

Crockett's injury has brought Joe Moody into the All Black camp as they go through several days of assessments, recovery and planning for the resumption of the test programme.

"When we name the team [Sunday] we will obviously name Wyatt but we will probably need a replacement as well," Hansen said.

Crockett has stayed in Christchurch and will be reassessed by the All Black medical staff.

Charlie Faumuina, another damaged prop, was in strong shape after his calf problems and McCaw had a sore neck and would not play until next Friday's hitout in Wellington.

The All Blacks will cut their squad to 28 players on Sunday with three others who will back up that group. Hansen said Rene Ranger was available for selection "at this point" but he was having ongoing discussions with the player and his agent.

- NZ Herald

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