Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Nonu looking forward eagerly to coming duel with Tuilagi

All Black second-five Ma’a Nonu is keen for a rematch with Manu Tuilagi  at Eden Park on Saturday. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Black second-five Ma’a Nonu is keen for a rematch with Manu Tuilagi at Eden Park on Saturday. Photo / Brett Phibbs

As those who have run into him know, there is very little give in Ma'a Nonu which is why he has hinted at rather than outright declared his intention to pop England's Manu Tuilagi in his back pocket this Saturday.

Nonu, recognised as the world's best line-breaking midfielder, endured an awkward and forgetful 80 minutes the only time his path has crossed Tuilagi's.
That was in 2012, when England enjoyed a record victory and it was Tuilagi, only 21 at the time, who caused much of the damage.

The enduring memory for many of the All Blacks that day was of Tuilagi carving up Twickenham and then somewhat contemptuously celebrating prematurely after picking up a try-scoring intercept. He was impressively powerful, agile and alive - outplaying his vaunted midfield opponents.

Injury ruled Tuilagi out of last year's rematch so Nonu has waited patiently for this moment. It's not about exacting revenge - it's more about establishing a hierarchy and setting Tuilagi straight on a few things.

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First, that things will never again be like how they were at Twickenham two years ago.

And second, playing the All Blacks in New Zealand is different from taking them on in London. Not that Nonu said as much when he was asked yesterday if there were any particular England players of whom the All Blacks would be wary.

"I think we are wary of all of them," he said. "They have played really well in the last two years, especially in terms of changing their game. We will look forward to having a really good battle up front and I think their backs are pretty physical too.

"I think in the midfield the likes of Tuilagi. We played him a couple of years ago and we lost in England."

That physicality in the backs to which Nonu refers was evident both in 2012 and 2013. The former especially so when Brad Barritt and Tuilagi not only went through the All Blacks on direct routes, but also did an admirable job of ensuring the traffic flow was not reciprocal. Not many defences can contain New Zealand's irrepressible No12 for 80 minutes. Barritt and Tuilagi did it in 2012, but without them last year, England weren't the same side.

It was Nonu, with a brilliant pass out of contact to Julian Savea, who created the match-winning try in 2013 and there is little doubt he'd like to have the same influence at Eden Park when Barritt and Tuilagi are the probable midfield opposition.

Nonu's response that the All Blacks are wary of all England's players may read like it is stock-standard. But he, more than most, knows the dangers the men in white can pose.

Nonu made his debut in Wellington in 2003, when England pulled off a famous 15-13 victory.

"That was a long time ago," he says. "I have a cloudy memory. I know that we lost. I was making my debut and I wanted to play really well. We didn't come away with the win. That England side went on to win the World Cup so we knew we had played a very good side."

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