Blockbusting centre Ma’a Nonu becomes the All Blacks sixth centurion on Friday but without his hero and inspiration Richie McCaw alongside him.
McCaw has been sidelined from their final Pool C match against Tonga in Newcastle after taking a knock to the thigh which coach Steve Hansen downplayed as nothing serious, as with the All Blacks already through to the quarter-finals there was no need to risk him.
That left Nonu rather disappointed his skipper, the world’s most capped player with 145 Tests under his belt, would not be playing in his milestone appearance.
“He’s a bloke that keeps trying for the best,” Nonu said when asked what motivated him as an All Black.
“I think he’s the best rugby player that’s played the game and he’s still playing at the top of his game and being part of that and knowing him and watching him play just inspires me more.”
Dan Carter, who has worked with Nonu in a fly-half and inside centre marriage throughout their All Blacks careers, said it was “awesome” having the bruising No 12 riding shotgun for him.
“The thing that makes it easiest about my job playing alongside Ma’a is that he has actually grown as an extremely vocal player in the team,” said Carter. “He gives me a lot of direction. He’s my eyes and ears playing outside me, telling me what he’s seeing and helping me with my option taking.”
Meanwhile, Tonga stalwart Nili Latu gets his one and only chance to play the All Blacks before stepping off the international stage.
Latu, 33, captains the side in what is his 43rd Test since making his debut in 2006. A 2007 World Cup veteran who was omitted from their 2011 squad, Latu has spent many years playing provincial and Super rugby in New Zealand. But a Test match against the All Blacks has always eluded him until now.
“I believe this could be my last season with the international team and it’s just a perfect way of going out,” Latu said. “I’m really excited about the game. I played a bit of rugby over in New Zealand with Richie, and a lot of the All Black boys are my friends as well. It’ll be good to rub shoulders with them but this could be my first and last game against the All Blacks.”