By Daniel Gilhooly
The All Blacks expect expect veteran second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu's body to be ready for the first Bledisloe Cup Test.
They're already convinced his mind is in the right place.
Nonu trained without apparent difficulty in Wellington on Monday, their first full session ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies in Sydney.
The 31-year-old, who has been the subject of relentless speculation over his Super Rugby future, hasn't played since injuring his ankle in a club match three weeks ago.
He, along with players rested from the Super Rugby-champion Chiefs, sat out Friday's hit-out against Canterbury and Wellington but has made steady progress since.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster says they haven't yet had to consider a contingency plan to replace Nonu, which would probably be to shift first five-eighth Dan Carter out one spot and introduce Aaron Cruden at No.10.
"The signs are that Ma'a's improving every day and it's looking good," Foster said.
Nonu's last top-level match was on June 29, when he was sent off for a lifting tackle 17 minutes into the Highlanders' loss to the Blues in Dunedin.
The 79-Test veteran has barely been out of the news since because of the apparent unwillingness for any of New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams to sign him for next year.
Nonu has left the Hurricanes, Blues and Highlanders under a cloud after each of the last three seasons.
The Crusaders and Chiefs have said they aren't interested in signing the powerhouse while recent reports suggest the Hurricanes - who he played eight seasons for before falling out with coach Mark Hammett - have gone cold on the prospect of a return.
The New Zealand Rugby Union has expressed concern that one of the game's premier players is without a team next year but won't comment further.
Foster says if Nonu is feeling the pressure, it hasn't shown since he arrived back in the All Blacks camp.
"I've been delighted with him. His ability to come in here with one focus is outstanding.
"His major concern is getting over that little niggle and he's doing that very well."
Nonu was one of the All Blacks' best players in the three-Test home win over France in June.
Meanwhile, Foster says another player settling in effectively this week is captain Richie McCaw, who didn't play against France while completing his six-month break from rugby and has been eased carefully back into rugby.
Foster expects McCaw's influence to grow as the week progresses.
"It feels like business as normal for Richie," Foster said.
"But as it gets closer to the time, there will be some nice nervousness in him and I think that's really positive. It's good when he's on edge."
source: newshub archive