All Black Ma’a Nonu announced yesterday he has signed a two-year deal with his former club the Auckland Blues, ending months of speculation over the veteran center’s Super 15 future.
His return comes after he buried the hatchet with Blues coach John Kirwan, who had accused the player of reneging on a handshake agreement when he moved to the Otago Highlanders for the past season.
The 31-year-old reportedly had an offer from French club Clermont, but that would have prevented him from playing for the All Blacks, with selectors keen for him to stay on for the 2015 World Cup.
“I am excited to be staying in New Zealand and returning to play my rugby with the Blues,” Nonu said. “While I had options to play elsewhere, my preference was always to stay, so my family and I are really happy that I can do that.”
Although the blockbusting center has regularly excelled in his 85 Tests for the All Blacks, he has failed to shine consistently at Super 15 level and will have a point to prove in his second spell at the Blues, who he is contracted to until the end of 2015.
“He’s one of the best midfielders in the world, so to have someone with his abilities is a huge asset to the squad,” Kirwan said.
Nonu left the Wellington Hurricanes at the end of the 2011 season with allegations he was a disruptive influence on the squad, then walked out on the Blues last year and refused a contract extension with the Highlanders this season.
At one point, it looked like no New Zealand Super 15 side wanted him and he might be forced overseas, leaving the All Blacks short of centers, with Sonny Bill Williams staying in rugby league and Conrad Smith on sabbatical.
However, after Nonu and Kirwan came to a reconciliation last week there was little doubt that he would end up back at the Blues.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen alluded to the situation in a radio interview on Monday, saying Nonu would be glad to have his future settled.
“It might be a weight off his shoulders... It’s just great that he’s here, it makes him available for us. He’s playing very, very well at the moment and is in a really good headspace,” Hansen said.