COMMENT

The All Blacks, as we have now seen, have problems in their backline, which has been exposed by Ireland and England over the past fortnight.

It's a combination of things rather than any one thing in particular, but let's get the big one out of the way first. The All Blacks need Ma'a Nonu back in the mix.

I can almost hear the howls of outrage and disbelief already, but think about it; if Nonu, now 36, plays consistently well for the Blues next season, and he should because he is apparently in extremely good physical condition and should get some expert and clear direction from new head coach Leon MacDonald, then he must be in the frame.

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Sonny Bill Williams will probably make the World Cup squad if he is fit because he is the All Blacks incumbent No 12 and Steve Hansen sees him as someone who can do things on a rugby pitch that others can't. And yet, Williams hardly played for the Blues this year due to his near constant injuries, and now he's on his way home from Dublin after hurting a shoulder at Twickenham last weekend.

The lack of game time affected his confidence and therefore his form. The All Blacks need another big carrier in the midfield to take the pressure off their No 10, whether that's Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo'unga, and I'm starting to favour the latter more and more, with Barrett at fullback.

Ryan Crotty, who started at second-five against Ireland, is a fine, consistent allrounder and a very good defender. He also made the defining difference for the All Blacks when he replaced Williams in the narrow win against England.

But, and here's the issue, can Crotty consistently get the All Blacks over the advantage line against well-organised and committed rush defences? Probably not. Nonu could, though, at least he could when he last played for the All Blacks (he was brilliant at it in his final test – the World Cup final victory over the Wallabies at Twickenham in 2015).

If we assume Jack Goodhue, 23, will be the All Blacks starting centre in all their big tests next year, and that all midfielders are fit come World Cup time, Nonu, if he was included, would be taking the place of either a promising player (Ngani Laumape and/or Matt Proctor), or a consistently good one (Crotty or Anton Lienert-Brown).

Laumape is a bruising and direct runner and defender, but while he scored a hat-trick in his last test – against Japan in Yokohama – the 25-year-old still has a lot of developing to do. Proctor is raw but could also stake a claim for the Hurricanes next season. Crotty and Lienert-Brown are classy, the latter especially off the reserves bench, and would have to be at the front of the midfield queue.

The big question with Nonu, given his age and miles on the clock – 103 tests – is whether he still has the pace for test rugby. The desire is still there. He has apparently made it clear that he is returning from Toulon to play for the Blues in the hope of making it to a fourth World Cup, but that determination will probably be the last thing to go.

And yes, if he is selected for the All Blacks next year, he will be the second oldest ever to play for them after hooker Ned Hughes, who played his last test in 1921 at the age of 40 years, 123 days. Lock Brad Thorn is next - he was 36 years, 262 days when he played his final test - the 2011 World Cup final.

The good news for Nonu, and the Blues, and potentially the All Blacks, is that he is in good shape (he very rarely gets injured) and is eager to make the most of what is surely his last throw of the dice at the franchise.

"I respect Ma'a enormously; he's a fantastic player and I hear he's in the best nick of his life," MacDonald told the Herald after it was announced he would replace Tana Umaga as head coach.

"He's the type of player this club needs – he'll provide a lot of value on and off the field and coupled with Sonny [Bill Williams] as well, we've got some really experienced and wise heads there."

Other nations are catching up to the All Blacks and in some cases already ahead, so open minds are needed. Bring back Nonu.