Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Te Puni confident Nonu will deliver

Ma'a Nonu. Getty Images.
Ma'a Nonu. Getty Images.

Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni is relying on his new coaching team's historical links with Ma'a Nonu to get the best out of the second-five next season.

Nonu's return to the capital was confirmed this morning and marks a homecoming of sorts for a player who last turned out for the franchise in 2011 before he was given his marching orders by then-coach Mark Hammett.

The 91-test All Black hasn't settled during the past three years with two stops at the Blues, while he spent the 2013 campaign with the Highlanders as he yearned for another chance with the Hurricanes.

Incoming head coach Chris Boyd and his right-hand man John Plumtree have known Nonu for years, which could prove crucial to motivating a player who turned out for the Hurricanes 110 times between 2003-2011 but has previously been accused of looking disinterested at Super Rugby level.

"These guys have worked with Ma'a for a number of years, they've known him since he was a kid," Te Puni said of his new coaches.

"What that means is they know what they want from him when he comes here in 2015, which is what I'm sure he'll deliver."

Given Alapati Leiua and Tim Bateman are heading offshore, the Hurricanes were also in the market for another midfielder, which added to their desire to sign Nonu.

Hammett delivered a parting shot to the Hurricanes yesterday as he said the franchise was a "real mess" when he arrived in late 2010 and Te Puni, who started in April, 2011, admitted it was a tough introduction.

"I can say that 2011 was certainly a challenging year for board, management, coaches and a whole lot of people."

It was perceived that Nonu was part of the culture problem at the Hurricanes, who Hammett said had a lack of professionalism when he took over, but Te Puni was confident the 32-year-old Nonu would be a productive member of the squad on his return.

"We are going to have 37 players on the Hurricanes roster next year and there won't be a single one that Chris Boyd and John Plumtree select that they won't have thought about and considered whether they're actually going to help us perform better on the pitch and add to the club in every way. Ma'a's met that criteria, he's obviously met with Chris as part of the process. We've heard from Conrad [Smith] as the captain that he supports it and so do I."

Nonu will link with long-time running mate Smith in the midfield for the Hurricanes next year as part of an entertaining backline, which includes halfback TJ Perenara, first-five Beauden Barrett, wings Julian Savea and Cory Jane and freshly-signed fullback Jason Woodward.

"That is a Rolls Royce backline and one the coaches are excited about," Te Puni said.
The Hurricanes may look to add a couple more players before their squad is rubber-stamped and they're keen to find another lock, although a majority of this year's side, who finished seventh, will be retained.

"There's no talk of rebuilding. We know that we've got a good squad, exciting backline and some exciting times to come for 2015," Te Puni said.

- APNZ

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