Ma'a Allan Nonu (/ /; born 21 May 1982 in Wellington, New Zealand) is a professional rugby union player from New Zealand. He plays in the second-five eighth position (called inside centre in Europe and Australia), but can also cover (outside) centre and wing. He was a key member of 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup winning teams, becoming one of only twenty dual Rugby Union World Cup winners.
Nonu plays for the French club Toulon.
Nonu has been known for his blonde-streaked dreadlocks and former penchant for wearing eyeliner on the field. He is equally well known for his explosiveness and powerful attacking runs and regularly breaks the defensive line at will, however is also known for his dangerous shoulder charge tackles, which have often seen him sent off during games. 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Graham Henry has described him as "probably the best linebreaker in this game in this country."
Nonu has been noted to possess a similar attacking skillset to former All Black centre Tana Umaga. Like Umaga, he is an exceptional crash ball runner who excels at breaking the line and creating space for outside backs. In 2005, Henry described Nonu as "young Tana," underlining the impression that he was being groomed as a potential successor to Umaga. This comparison has been confirmed in recent times by Wayne Smith.
He played for Wellington Secondary Schools in 1999–2000 and Wellington Under 19s in 2001. He also played rugby league as a youngster.
Professional career and the All Blacks
He made his provincial debut for Wellington in the 2002 NPC and debuted for the Hurricanes in the 2003 Super 12. He played for the New Zealand Sevens in 2004. On the back of some outstanding Super 12 form, Nonu made his Test debut for the All Blacks on 14 June 2003, starting at centre in a 15-13 loss to England.
Nonu missed selection for the 2003 Tri Nations, with the selecters preferring Umaga, Aaron Mauger and Daniel Carter in the midfield. He was selected for the All Blacks' 2003 World Cup squad and played in pool matches against Canada, Italy and Tonga. He scored his first Test try against Canada and was generally impressive on attack and easily breaking the line and his big stature was intimidating to the opposition. However, question marks over his defensive game and inexperience meant he was not selected for the knockout stage of the tournament despite an injury to Umaga.
Nonu missed selection for the Tri Nations in 2004 after a form slump in the Super 12. He forced his way back into contention playing for Wellington in the 2004 NPC, and played as a substitute in all four matches on the All Blacks' undefeated end of year tour to Europe.
Nonu played on the wing for much of the 2005 Super 12, with Conrad Smith preferred as Umaga's midfield partner. Standout performances included a hat trick against 2004 Super 12 champions the Brumbies. Nonu played at second five-eighth for the Possibles in the 2005 All Blacks trial, scoring two tries and setting up two more to inspire the Possibles to an upset win over the Probables. He played in the second Test against the 2005 British and Irish Lions as a substitute, replacing Sitiveni Sivivatu on the wing. He again missed selection for the 2005 Tri Nations.
Wellington Lions captain Umaga was rested during the 2005 NPC, and in his absence Nonu was promoted to the captaincy of the team. During the NPC, he established himself as one of New Zealand's most dangerous midfield runners. He was selected for the 2005 All Blacks Grand Slam tour, playing Tests as a substitute against Wales and Scotland, and earning his third Test start against Ireland. He was cited for an alleged spear tackle against Brian O'Driscoll during the Test against Ireland, but was later cleared of the charge.
In 2006 Ma'a Nonu was ruled out of the Tri Nations squad due to injury, Mils Muliaina being chosen to take his place. He damaged the base of his left thumb playing club rugby in Wellington, which required him to have surgery. He was, however, included in the end of year tour with the All Blacks.
Due to his absence from the All Blacks Tri Nations squad Ma'a Nonu was able to play every game with the Wellington Lions in the Air New Zealand Cup, which greatly helped them. Nonu missed out on selection for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, with the selectors preferring Aaron Mauger, Luke McAlister, Conrad Smith and Isaia Toeava in the centres.
The game against the Argentina on 28 September 2013 marked a record fiftieth international game in combination with Conrad Smith.
In December 2006, Nonu expressed a desire to switch codes to rugby league and play in the National Rugby League (NRL) after the 2007 Rugby World Cup. A move overseas was seen as more likely as he was not named in Graham Henry's 2007 squad but was instead dropped to the Junior All Blacks.
In 2008, Nonu returned to the All Blacks, starting in the majority of tests throughout the year, and regarded to be the All Blacks first choice inside centre.
2011 Tri-Nations & Rugby World Cup
Nonu played his first international of 2011 in a friendly against Fiji.
He played in New Zealand's first Tri-Nations game against South Africa. The All Blacks ended up winning 40-7. He then went on to play New Zealand's next game in the Tri-Nations against Australia where he scored the opening try. He played the final game of the tournament against Australia and scored his 21st international try.
Nonu was selected for the All Blacks 2011 Rugby World Cup. He scored the final try the All Blacks opening match. On 23 October 2011, he played in the final against France, which the All Blacks won by 8-7 to become world champions.
Ricoh Black Rams
Following the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Nonu joined the Ricoh Black Rams, in Japan, on a short-term 'sabbatical'. In 12 games for the Rams, he scored six tries and received one yellow card.
Nonu made his debut for the Blues in round three of the 2012 Super Rugby season. 2012 also marked a 'below-par' season for Nonu in terms of form and his struggle to return to the No. 12 jersey for the All Blacks. Nonu's performances following his return from his Black Rams sabbatical were met with poor response and subsequently led to his exclusion from the match-day 22 for the France test series. Nonu's place was filled by Sonny Bill Williams, whose form and consistency kept Nonu out of the 12 jersey until Week 3 of the 2012 Rugby Championship. Due to injury to former Hurricanes teammate Conrad Smith, Nonu returned to the All Blacks starting lineup in the first week of the inaugural Rugby Championship at 13, centre, with Sonny Bill at 12, forming what was considered the most 'destructive' centre pairing in world rugby.
Nonu returned to the All Blacks number 12 jersey. Following Williams' departure to Japan and then the NRL, Nonu played all but one of the remaining tests as second five-eighth, except against Scotland where he came off the bench.
After one season in Auckland, Nonu moved to Dunedin. The Blues weren't pleased to see him leave. He had signed a one-year deal with the Highlanders for the 2013 Super Rugby season. It didn't begin well: in 12 rounds, the Highlanders had only won one of 10 games.
It was announced that Nonu will be returning to the Hurricanes for the 2015 Super Rugby season, the team he left in 2011. It is speculated that the departure of former Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett to the Cardiff Blues paved the way for his return. Nonu is set to partner fellow All Back Conrad Smith in what is set to be a formidable midfield for the Hurricanes.
2015 World Cup
Nonu was selected as the starting inside centre for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he played in nearly every pool game. Nonu played every knockout match and scored a 50m solo try to help the All Blacks beat Australia 34-17.