3 Jul 2018

Ma'a Nonu is someone the Blues could use

8:40 pm on 3 July 2018

Opinion - It's only July, but the Super Rugby rumour mill moved up a gear over the weekend.

Toulon's Ma'a Nonu is tackled by Racing 92's Virimi Vakatawa during the French Top14 rugby union match Racing 92 vs RC Toulon on April 8, 2018 in Paris

Ma'a Nonu playing for Toulon is tackled by Racing 92's Virimi Vakatawa during a French Top14 rugby union match in April. Photo: AFP

It was revealed that the Hurricanes had been chasing the prodigiously talented Akira Ioane, however the effort was ultimately in vain.

It led on to reports yesterday that the Canes had been trying to lure two-time prodigal son Ma'a Nonu back from his long and colourful worldwide rugby adventure, too.

Assistant coach John Plumtree shot that idea down pretty quickly, offering up a simple "no" when asked if they were close to signing him.

Which makes sense. If there's one area where the Canes have been absolutely outstanding in lately it's the midfield, where ironically the departure of Nonu and fellow veteran Conrad Smith opened up head coach Chris Boyd to usher in a revolving cast of new faces. Willis Halaholo, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape and Matt Proctor have been the picks of the bunch, and Jordie Barrett has done a pretty good job filling in there when he's needed.

After a four-year stint, Nonu has finished up at Toulon, a club that a French journalist on the recent tour described to me as a 'crazy place'. Logic would suggest that he'd head to Japan, like his old All Blacks teammate Dan Carter, and get himself one last, fat pay cheque before returning home.

But what if there is a slight bit of truth to speculation Nonu will head back to New Zealand? While the Canes might not need him, there is one other team that definitely needs all the help they can get.

The Blues' 2018 season has been a forgettable one, to go along with all the other bad memories stretching back to their last playoff appearance in 2011.

It said a lot when their opening loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin was hailed as some sort of new dawn, because they'd managed to score 34 in a hostile venue despite losing. But since then, it's followed the same script as years past: someone has to come last in the NZ Conference, and it isn't going to be the champion Crusaders, stacked Hurricanes, gritty Chiefs or solid Highlanders. The Blues have their role to play propping up that ladder, but unlike last year, they started to drop off considerably with only one win at Eden Park - and that was against the pathetic Reds.

Blues coach Tana Umaga.

Blues coach Tana Umaga Photo: PHOTOSPORT

If there's been one consistent theme with the beleaguered Auckland franchise, it's that they're constantly rebuilding and that coach Tana Umaga needs more time to make things click with a largely youthful squad.

Jerome Kaino will be gone next year. His availability on field has been pretty limited in the last couple of seasons anyway, with a string of injuries keeping him from being a serious part of any Blues revival. His departure sheds the team of much needed seniority, but it's a gap that someone like Nonu can fill.

Yes, he's 36 and has had one unsuccessful stint in Auckland. But this isn't a role that will require him to carry the team down the field, just mostly help develop guys off it with his experience and skill.

Umaga knows the value of that full well, because he's done it himself in similar circumstances. After a playing and coaching stint in France, Umaga came back and played a season with the Chiefs in 2011, mostly coming off the bench and being a mentor figure to a squad that ultimately won back-to-back Super Rugby titles in the following two seasons. It also eased his way into a coaching career back home, one which right now isn't looking all that easy anymore.

What he needs is help, and a 103-test All Black wouldn't be a bad start.