Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues confirm Nonu's exit as analysis begins

Ma'a Nonu's return to the Hurricanes will provide a welcome boost to the Wellington side's depleted midfield. Picture / ODT
Ma'a Nonu's return to the Hurricanes will provide a welcome boost to the Wellington side's depleted midfield. Picture / ODT

After once more finishing a disappointing 10th in this year's Super Rugby competition, the Blues will today confirm the departure of their All Black midfielder Ma'a Nonu.

Nonu, who will join the Hurricanes next year for what is likely to be his last season in New Zealand, will be wished well by John Kirwan and the Blues after a season in which he performed consistently well, but the coach and his franchise are entitled to feel disappointed by the 32-year-old's decision to activate the out-clause in his contract.

After being forced out of the Hurricanes by Mark Hammett in 2011 and playing a season each for the Blues and Highlanders, the latter coming last year after Nonu reneged on an agreement with Kirwan, no other franchise was willing to take him. Now, after his best Super Rugby season in years, Nonu is officially off again.

Even All Blacks midfield colleague and friend Conrad Smith was urging caution yesterday on a potential return to the Hurricanes for Nonu.

"He's obviously a good mate of mine and I've played a lot of rugby with him," Smith said. "It'll be good for the team but it has to be managed right.

"It is a big decision and that's why we have to go there and make sure everyone's okay."

Nonu, who will cite family reasons for his shift, will be a welcome addition to the Hurricanes following Hammett's departure for Cardiff. New coaches Chris Boyd and John Plumtree desperately needed a quality midfielder following the offshore exits of Alapati Leiua and Tim Bateman. A backline featuring the likes of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, whom Kirwan tried unsuccessfully to sign again for next season, Nonu, Smith, Julian Savea and Cory Jane will be one of the best in the competition.

Nonu, who finished his Blues career last Friday with a loss and a yellow card against the Chiefs at Eden Park, will likely add to the feelgood factor in the capital on his return.

Skipper Smith yesterday spoke of the positive changes Hammett made during his four years at the franchise and he reckoned that applied to Nonu as well.

"I think Ma'a's changed a fair bit in that time too," Smith said.

"If the stars align and everything works out then I think it would be great for the club to have him back and have the Hurricanes playing really well."

For the Blues, the season review has already begun. The final document will be handed to the board late next month and there is no doubt the franchise will be looking for improvements next year.

Like last year, the Blues won only one match away from home, finishing with seven victories in total (and nine defeats) compared with six victories and 10 losses in 2013.

Kirwan has already said he will be at risk if he doesn't lead the team into the playoffs after two seasons in which they have finished 10th.

That assessment was all but confirmed by chief executive Michael Redman yesterday.

"They [the board] will set those KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] for 2015 but it's fair to say the playoffs will be at the forefront of their thinking," Redman said.

- NZ Herald

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