New Zealand Rugby
Conrad Smith hopes Ma'a Nonu returns
August 1, 2013
Ma'a Nonu endured a disappointing season with the Highlanders © Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu has some work to do if he wants to return to the Hurricanes next season, his All Blacks team-mate Conrad Smith said after the Highlanders confirmed they wouldn't offer the game-breaking centre a contract for 2014 after a disappointing Super Rugby season.
Nonu's playing future is increasingly murky after successive lacklustre one-season campaigns with the Blues, in 2012, and Highlanders, in 2013, after leaving the Hurricanes under a cloud in 2011 following a clash with Mark Hammett as the coach set about changing elements of the club's culture.
"There's a bit to go through," Smith said on Wednesday as he and Nonu assembled at the two-day All Blacks camp in Auckland. "That's obviously why it's taken as long as it has. I don't know where it's going to end up. I think there'd have to be a bit of shifting on his account."
Smith said he'd first been asked about Nonu's return to the Hurricanes about a month ago. "I just said in terms of playing, I'd love to have him there," Smith said. "But I appreciate there's a bigger picture and a lot of other things to go through."
Smith said Hammett had told him that Nonu had approached the franchise. "The issue hadn't come to a head at that stage, but they'd obviously been sounded out and he just sort of wanted to get my opinion. It was literally a two-minute conversation."
Hammett and Nonu met last week in Wellington, where Nonu has played for his club side, but the Hurricanes coach refused to comment about the nature of the discussion.
Nonu performed strongly for the All Blacks during the 3-0 home sweep of France in June, reinforcing the viewpoint of critics who say he doesn't produce his best at Super Rugby level.
The 79-Test veteran then missed the final two rounds of the Highlanders' poor season after being sent off for an illegal tackle against the Crusaders on June 29.
Smith said he was hopeful the powerful second five-eighth could return to the Hurricanes.
"I'm always an optimist and I think that it can be done."