Give Ma'a a chance, plead coaches

NZPA     16 Nov 2006    

Scrutiny of his game at the Stade de France is likely to be intense.

"I hope we're not becoming obsessed with this," said Smith, who along with coach Graham Henry spent the bulk of the coaches' press conference yesterday explaining the selection of the powerful 24-year-old game-breaker in a position where he has never started a Test.

"He had a great Air New Zealand Cup. There was a big push towards him by the public. I think they recognise the growth of him as a player.

"We've been really happy with his approach to the tour. The time he's had so far, he's nailed."

Smith said even better people to ask about Nonu would be opposition teams.

He said they all regarded him as "a handful".

He was someone they would have to plan specifically for to contain his line-breaking ability.

Knowing his strengths was one thing but dealing with them quite another, Smith added.

"Ma'a's a ball runner, he's a penetrator. He tires out defences, he hurts defenders and he loves doing it. He's a different sort of player and we're just keen to have a look at him in that role."

After the tour-opening Test against England at centre, Nonu rated his own performance as four out of 10.

Smith said having such steadying influences as Dan Carter at first five-eighth and Mils Muliaina at centre would be important for Nonu's confidence this week.

The coaches were far more positive in their assessment of Nonu at Twickenham, with Smith pointing to six line breaks in their post-Test analysis.

"He had a big workload on defence, missed a couple of tackles but made some effective ones," Smith said.

"He had a lot of ball carries and a high ratio of line breaks.

"He has big shoes to fill, I'll acknowledge that. In world rugby, I think Aaron is probably the best organiser from that position.

"But Ma'a has taken some big steps forward. He's a young man with not that many Tests under his belt and he's getting better all the time.

"He's got good heads around him. Mils is a good communicator on counter-attack and Daniel runs the game pretty well these days."

Muliaina's right foot would also provide the All Blacks with another tactical kicking option away from Carter, with Nonu likely to be unemployed.

"He's got a kicking game, it's fair to say he doesn't apply it as much as he could at this level and that's an experience thing."

Of the All Blacks starting 15, only two didn't get on the field in their momentous 45-6 win at Paris two years ago -- fullback Leon MacDonald and winger Sitiveni Sivivatu.

The latter is paired with cousin Joe Rokocoko out wide, with Smith admitting Rico Gear was unlucky to miss out on a wing spot.

"Of course we're happy with Rico. Sometimes there are very slim margins and this is one position where the margin is a hell of a small," Smith said.

"It's a choice between world class players really."

Meanwhile, the All Blacks were to train again tomorrow morning before preparing for an evening visit to Stade de France to watch the French soccer team host Greece in a friendly international.

Henry and captain Richie McCaw were to meet French coach Raymond Domenech and skipper Patrick Viera, who is playing his 100th international, a couple of hours before kickoff.

They would be introduced to the rest of the French team -- this year's World Cup finalists -- in the dressing room.