Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Knock-on effect: How SBW has helped Ma'a

Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Getty Images

The Sonny Bill Williams saga over, the Ma'a Nonu saga, which was thought to be coming to an end, has found the energy to twist back into life.

Make no mistake - the two events are connected. When there was a level of confidence about Williams returning next year, Nonu was potentially expendable.

Having him out of the way in France may in fact have been no bad thing. The Williams show would have had free rein. There would have been no awkward decision-making for the All Blacks selectors about what to do at second-five.

Nonu, had he gone to France on sabbatical next year, wouldn't have been available for the June tests against England and in all likelihood would have missed a bit of the Rugby Championship to play in the ITM Cup to satisfy the eligibility criteria.

While there was reluctance and indeed significant disappointment to see Nonu forced offshore for a stint, there was no sense of panic or doom. That was until Williams hummed towards rugby and then hawed back to the NRL, and the All Blacks were suddenly looking at playing much of 2014 without either of their prized midfield assets.

Time for one last effort to see if any of the franchises couldn't be forced to re-think their stance on Nonu.

So here we are now with a week until the Super Rugby deadline for next year and the Blues are thinking about it as are the Chiefs. A couple of big questions arise with both possible scenarios.

In the case of the Blues, coach John Kirwan may be able to forgive and forget but he's made of better moral fabric than most. He is trying and largely succeeding to engage the wider Auckland public with his young team. He wants to build a side the people can believe in: a team that captures the imagination of the city.

Young men such as Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau and Francis Saili have won hearts all over and no doubt the return of Jerome Kaino will help sell the franchise to its prospective audience, while the arrival of Benji Marshall will, at least for a while, have ticket sales purring at Eden Park.

But Nonu, despite his world class brilliance for the All Blacks, may be the spanner in the works. The paying masses might find it hard to be as forgiving as Kirwan and wonder why someone who walked out so easily on the Blues before could really have the future of the team at heart.

A revolution at Auckland Rugby a few years back saw them turn their backs on self-interested athletes. Re-signing Nonu may be incongruous in relation to that, but then again, maybe everyone deserves a second chance.

If the Chiefs land Nonu this year, then what happens when Williams, presuming he's serious, comes back next year? Can he and Nonu be housed at the same franchise?

Neither the New Zealand Rugby Union nor All Black coach will particularly care much about these wider questions - they have a need to keep Nonu here next year more than they ever did and, for now, that's all that matters.

- NZ Herald

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