Expect Ma’a Nonu to inspire the All Blacks to an emphatic win over Tonga in his 100th Test at St James' Park on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Nonu has had a quiet tournament thus far, having battled with an injury. Equally, the All Blacks weren’t quite at their imperious best when he started against Argentina in their World Cup opener, with Sonny Bill Williams impressive coming off the bench.
Williams started at inside centre during the last two matches, but now Nonu has been restored to his rightful place in the No 12 jersey for Friday’s match.
The seasoned centre has often been enigmatic at Super Rugby level, but the All Blacks' set-up has consistently brought out the best in him.
His centre partner Conrad Smith is also nearing the Test-century mark, and should this experienced duo regain their mojo, expect the All Blacks to rack up a big score against Tonga.
The All Blacks haven’t performed at their best so far. They battled to a win over Argentina, while a close to full-strength side uncharacteristically struggled to stamp their authority on last Friday’s match against Georgia.
On this special occasion, the All Blacks will want to make the Nonu milestone a memorable one, but more importantly rediscover some form and momentum as they head into the knockout stage.
Nonu could well provide that spark, while Kieran Read and Sam Cane will have important roles as leaders and key players in the absence of injured Richie McCaw.
NONU’S STATS THAT MATTER
99 – Test caps
29 – Test tries
5 – Carries over the gainline at this World Cup
4 – Defenders beaten
HEAD TO HEAD
All Blacks 4, Tonga 0
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romana, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images