Ma’a Nonu was heavily involved in the first try after halftime, and scored the next to turn the tide the Blues way in Mangatainoka. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV
While it’s hard to draw conclusions from pre-season matches due to the number of top players not participating, it’s fair to say that Ma’a Nonu is looking good.
The former All Black midfielder started for the Blues during their 38-31 Tui Cup win against the Hurricanes at Mangatainoka Rugby Football Club on Saturday, and by the time he left midway through the second half was due the warm applause offered by the large crowd.
The two-time Rugby World Cup winner, who has returned to New Zealand fields for the first time since the 2015 RWC was relatively quiet in the first half, but showed his class within minutes of the restart.
Within six minutes he was involved in setting up a try, and then dodged a tackle to score beneath the posts on a run reminiscent to that he made to touch down in the Rugby World Cup final less than four years ago.
The try came after he’d made a strong defensive play just moments earlier.
It was a reminder of his class. Not that he’s at full noise just yet. But if his speed off the mark improves as the weeks go on the veteran could yet be the story of the year.
While most of the crowd were dressed in Hurricanes paraphernalia, and it wasn’t an occasion or a performance due a standing ovation, there was universal warmth directed towards the midfield warrior as he departed.
The Hurricanes had previously made a strong start to the match, with James Blackwell scoring their first try just before the 10-minute mark.
Minutes later a swift passing movement saw winger Ben Lam complete a long range try.
The Blues picked up their game as the half wore on with two tries bringing the score to 14-14 just on half time.
Both sides went to their subs benches early, with the Canes making four simultaneous substitutions at one point.
The second half saw the Blues score four more tries including one from a classy cross field kick to Harry Plummer that pushed them well ahead.
Hurricanes halfback Finlay Christie was everywhere during his stint and looked to be the fittest man on the field, offering promise that he will be an effective backup to TJ Perenara during the season.
The Hurricanes came back strongly late in the second half to bring the final score to 38-31.
Speaking after the match Hurricanes coach John Plumtree said the game had been a tough hit out.
“We knew it was going to be physical, they were physical last week against the Chiefs and they brought that same physicality.
“They were hard to stop when they got momentum and that was the physicality coming out.”
Plumtree said a big worry for the Canes was the number of injuries they had going into the season.
“Going forward there’s probably three or four more than I would’ve liked this time of year so pretty disappointing to lose a couple of guys at this time.
“We’ll just have to suss them all out but we’ve got a couple of issues that could slow us down as well, particularly in the forwards.”
Injuries aside Plumtree said he was happy with the way the match had played out.
“Because we’ve got so many young players here we’ve got to rank them and that’s a big thing right now for us. I need to find out particularly amongst the forwards where they’re at.
“I think the support here has been absolutely awesome and the weather’s done its part – there was sixty-odd points scored so it was great for the spectators.”
Both teams are already looking ahead to their first match-ups of the season this Saturday.
The Blues will be at home to the defending champion, Crusaders, with the Hurricanes away to the Waratahs in Sydney.
Blues 38 [Melani Nanai 2, Leni Apisai, Hoskins Sotutu, Ma’a Nonu and Harry Plummer tries; Otere Black 3 cons, Stephen Perofeta con] beat Hurricanes 31 [James Blackwell, Ben Lam, Asafo Aumua, Ben May and Wes Goosen tries; Fletcher Smith 2 cons, Jackson Garden-Bachop con]