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Nonu named in All Black Rugby Championship squad

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Unsigned Super Rugby midfielfer Ma’a Nonu has held on to his place in the All Blacks training squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship even though he has falled out of favour with all five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.

Nonu was named in a 30-man training squad to take part in a two-day camp this week before the Rugby Championship squad is named next Sunday.

The squad does not include members of the Waikato Chiefs who will play the Brumbies in the Super 15 final at Hamilton on Saturday night.

However it does include Rene Ranger even though the Blues outside back is off to France at the end of the year.

“We’ve always said we’d pick the best players available and at this point he (Ranger) is still available,” said head coach Steve Hansen.

Hansen was also satisfied with the fitness of regular captain Richie McCaw who returns to the All Blacks fold after 25 minutes of Super rugby following a six-month sabbatical

McCaw reportedly suffered a sore neck during his brief appearance off the bench for the Crusaders when they lost their Super semi-final to the Chiefs 20-19 on Saturday, but Hansen was not concerned.

“He’s in pretty good shape. By the time it gets to August 17 he’ll have had two more games, so at this point he’s coming along nicely.”

Nonu continues to have the backing of the All Blacks selectors, but while he shone in the June 3-0 clean sweep against France, he has not fired in Super rugby for some years and no longer has a Super franchise chasing his signature.

After a series of mediocre performances this year, his latest patron, Otago Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, had no option but to bench Nonu part way through the season.

Although he did offer the 79-Test veteran a berth for another year it was not picked up.

Nonu’s troubles started two years ago when he was not wanted by new Wellington Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett for the underachieving side.

That sparked a move to the Auckland Blues last year where he ended the season with a handshake agreement saying he would stay and then promptly moved to the Highlanders.

Blues coach John Kirwan said he no longer has room for Nonu and the two franchises the number 12 has not played for — the Chiefs and Crusaders — say he is not an option.

When Hammett was asked if he would take Nonu back his reply of “I’d never say never” made clear it was not high on his wish list.

But while the Super franchises do not want Nonu, the All Blacks need him as the only battle-hardened inside-centre in the selection frame.

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) has been reluctant to comment on the dilemma but issued a short statement recently indicating there was some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.

“He is obviously weighing up the options that he has and we continue to talk to him about those as we see him as critical to the continued success of the All Blacks,” NZRU rugby operations manager Neil Sorensen said.

The 28-man Rugby Championship squad will be named on August 4 with the opening Rugby Championship match against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 17.

All Blacks training squad:

Backs:

TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Daniel Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

Forwards:

Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Luke Romano, Jeremy Thrush, Samuel Whitelock, Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Brad Shields, Matt Todd, Victor Vito.

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