Super Rugby
Nonu comes full circle to reform dreadlocked duo
Sam Bruce
May 21, 2015
Tana Umaga (L) and Ma'a Nonu share a joke in 2005 © Getty Images

Hairstyles come in all shapes, cuts and colours in rugby nowadays, but one do springs to mind when you think of the Hurricanes: dreadlocks. And that's why it seems only fitting that Ma'a Nonu will this weekend draw level with Tana Umaga on 122 as the all-time caps leader for the Wellington-based franchise.

The midfield duo, who spent four seasons together at the Cake Tin between 2003 and 2007, are probably the two most recognisable faces of the franchise in its 20-year history that is yet to yield a Super Rugby title. But where Umaga is universally adored throughout the game, Nonu has held a reputation as a troublemaker and cheap-shot merchant - a perception that saw him run out of town at the end of the 2011 season town under now former Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett.

That "culture cleanout" also led to the departure of fellow All Blacks Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear, and Nonu for the next three years found himself in Auckland, Dunedin and then Auckland again as New Zealand's other franchises seemed to see Hammett's point. The 94-Test veteran added to the aura of antagonism with a series of shoulder charges, spear tackles and late hits that seemingly saw him spend as much time watching on from the sidelines as he did tearing it up in midfield. He became the dreadlocked demon puppy no-one wanted. That was, of course, until he pulled on the All Blacks No.12 jersey around August every year, when he was instantly once again every New Zealander's favourite inside centre; Nonu had become the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde character, a Super Rugby leper between February and July and bona fide Test superstar from thereafter.

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There were just a few signs under John Kirwan at the Blues last year that Nonu may have been turning a corner at Super Rugby level; a new-found short-kicking game a nice addition to a skillset compiled over 13 years at the top level. Then came news of Hammett's departure to Cardiff, a post the New Zealander has now left, and the promotion of Wellington Lions ITM Cup coach Chris Boyd to the Hurricanes job. One of Boyd's first moves was to welcome Nonu home to the Kiwi capital and give him a chance to regain the respect he'd lost at Super Rugby level.

The decision has proven a winner for both player and franchise. While the Hurricanes had shown flashes of brilliance under Hammett, a lack of consistency saw them miss the play-offs in each of his four seasons in charge. They had a virtual Test-quality backline, save for one key position - second five-eighth. With Nonu back at No.12 this season, the Hurricanes are enjoying the lofty heights of the Super Rugby summit.

Ma'a Nonu has made a blistering return to the Hurricanes this season © Getty Images

The Canes' success is not all to do with Nonu, of course; the pack is finally providing a solid platform from which their backs can work, while the yellow-and-blacks' counterattack has been the equal of anything the competition has seen before. But such has been the change in the veteran centre's demeanour and attitude, it's hard to see how he hasn't at least inspired something in his team-mates.

It's a homecoming that likely brought a smile to Umaga's face, even if it now appears certain his Hurricanes mark will exist for just one further week. His monopoly at the local barbershop is probably gone, too, with kids just as likely to be asking for the "Ma'a" as they have the "Tana" for the better part of two decades.

Whatever the request, dreadlocks are certainly the required do for game 122.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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