World Cup winning second five-eighths and new Blues recruit Ma’a Nonu made a surprise appearance at Eden Park on Friday night to watch his new team take on the Crusaders.
Having just flown in from Japan that day after finishing up his season with the Ricoh Black Rams, www.theblues.co.nz caught up with Nonu after the game to find out about his experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun and what he’s expecting in his first year with the Blues.
What did you make of the game tonight?
It was a tough match, I expected that and what a game, it was a shame the Blues couldn’t quite get up.
Could you give us a little bit of an insight into what went on in Japan and how much you played?
I played every game bar one (12 games) and I really enjoyed it, it’s a good competition. I didn’t really realise that half the players are semi-professional, they work for the company and they play rugby so it was quite interesting to see but it was a good experience.
How are you physically? You had a big year last year and went over to Japan without much of a break.
I’m feeling OK, I battled a bit in December I must say, I kind of hit the wall but I managed to get over it and played some more games and I’m feeling good. I’ll join the Blues camp on Monday and just assess how it goes really, get some training under my belt and I want to be fully fit to go again.
Do they do a fair bit of running over in Japan?
Yeah they do a lot of running, I came last in every run so they were all laughing at me!
What is the level of rugby like there?
I’d say it’s similar to ITM Cup. There’s a lot of foreign players playing in Japan and the good thing is they’re all scattered around, they’ve got a rule where only three foreign players are allowed on the paddock at any one time so I think most teams have six or seven foreign players in a team so it was pretty good. I played a few of my mates that used to play in New Zealand so that was fun too.†
I heard a rumour you had been kicking goals over in Japan, is there any truth in that?
I did attempt a penalty kick against Mil’s (Mils Muliaina) team because we were up by 50 points so I took a shot from 45m out and he was standing under the posts giving me the finger but I missed! Anyway I had a good time, it was good, hard rugby at the same time and I thank the Japanese and the NZRU for allowing me to go.
Having gone all the way through last season and the World Cup and then Japan, coming back now, mentally are you still fresh?
Probably kind of in between, it was a new challenge going to Japan and I had to quickly get rid of the World Cup hangover but it was great to indulge in the Japanese culture and their rugby. Now it’s a new chapter because I’m playing for a new team in the Blues. If I’d played for the Hurricanes again it would have been the same and I’d know what to expect but now it’s a new change and a new challenge and it’s a good way for me to freshen up.
How do you approach this season of Super Rugby after the World Cup?
It will be harder, because it’s a new year. You saw some of those guys that played in the World Cup such as Kieran Read tonight – he played outstandingly, he made 30+ tackles, Jerome is still ripping it up at the same time so every year players want to get better and I think probably in the past where I’ve tripped over is where I’ve relied on my past form so I just have to play better footy this year.
What is your main motivation this year, is it to keep improving or do you have a point to prove after last year?
I think there’s always a point to prove. I’m in a new team with a lot of expectation so I want to play well.
Having spent time with England number 8 James Haskell how do you think he will go playing Super Rugby with the Highlanders?
I think he’ll go well. He’s a great player; he had a good time in Japan and played really well. He’s a very physical player too so I think he’ll relish playing for the Highlanders, especially with Jamie Joseph as his coach and expecting the hard guys to lead from the front.