After some off-field issues, Nonu has established himself as one of the best players in All Black history

All Black great Ma'a Nonu has opened up in a rare and revealing interview with the Herald, admitting the off-field job of being a role model has been his biggest challenge.

Nonu, 32, will play his 89th test for the All Blacks when they take on England tonight at Eden Park. He has now established himself as one of the finest All Black midfielders in history, but acceptance off the field hasn't been easy to come by.

Two arrests in Wellington during the middle of the past decade and a brief dalliance with makeup made him an easy target for critics.

"I know in my early 20s I wasn't perfect, but what can you do except learn from when you trip up?" he tells canvas magazine today.


As for the make-up, he has an explanation for that. He was laid up with a broken thumb when he had an epiphany of sorts.

"Rockstars wear eyeliner, why not give it a try?

"That didn't really go down well. It didn't change who I was, but I guess All Blacks don't wear makeup."

Nonu chooses not to talk about the circumstances involving his controversial departure from his beloved hometown Hurricanes — which set in motion of chain of events that saw him go to the Blues, the Highlanders and back to the Blues (it is widely believed he will return to the Hurricanes in Wellington next year).

He was more comfortable talking about the man he credits with saving his rugby career.

Nonu had signed a contract to play for Wests Tigers after he missed the 2007 World Cup, but at the last minute didn't send the contract back.

That's when former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith walked into the picture, suggesting they move Nonu move to second five-eighth, a position he has since made his own. "I thank him all the time for that," Nonu says. "He was amazing. He treats players like mates, like individuals, not as a product or a pet."

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