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Great chance for "young Tana"

By By Daryl Fenemor

Published: 2:11PM Thursday September 15, 2005 Source: One Sport

The resting of All Blacks captain Tana Umaga may not be great for the Wellington Lions but it is for the development of "young Tana", Ma'a Nonu.

Nonu has taken on the captaincy at Wellington after the injury to Joe McDonnell and in the absence of the All Blacks, with Umaga and Rodney So'oialo possibly missing the entire NPC if Wellington don't make the semifinals.

Umaga's rest has also given Nonu the opportunity to prove himself as a midfielder.

The 23-year-old has been capped in eight tests for the All Blacks, since debuting as a centre against England in 2003, and has played most of his international minutes in the midfield.

The All Blacks selectors see him as a midfield option but, with Umaga and Conrad Smith in Wellington, Nonu has spent most of his time on the wing for the Lions and Hurricanes.

"He's an excellent footballer, he's explosive, he's big, he's got a presence on the field, he's probably the best linebreaker in this game in this country," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said earlier this year.

"So he just needs experience playing in the midfield, probably at 13, and you can't buy that, you've actually got to go through the process.

"He's young Tana and hopefully he'll become old Tana one day."

The All Blacks selectors have said they are not likely to play Nonu and Umaga in the same team as they are similar rather than complementary players, which saw Nonu dropped out of the All Blacks squad for the Tri-Nations after being involved during the Lions series.

Nonu says the in and out nature of his All Blacks career has not affected him as he just concentrates on playing and he is happy to play any position as long as he is on the field helping the team.

He has shown his offensive capabilities with five tries in the NPC but some question marks still hover over his defence.

He will need to show all of Umaga's qualities in the coming weeks as Wellington look to secure their spot in the top four, starting against a much-improved Southland at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

Despite the added pressure of being captain Nonu doesn't believe it is affecting his game.

"I think if you think it affects you then it will," Nonu told TVNZ. "I think for me just playing really is more important than being captain so all in all there's a lot of leaders out there in our team and I'm thankful for that."

He is not thinking about possible end of year All Blacks selection at this stage but just focusing on keeping fit and playing well for Wellington.

Down the line the prospect of playing rugby league is still an interesting one for Nonu but he is still chasing his All Blacks dream at this stage.

"There are a lot of boys that want to play league but there's an opportunity here to play in New Zealand and play for the black jersey and that's the reason why I'm here," Nonu said. "Maybe later on when there's a window there we'll see what happens."

Wellington's match against Southland kicks off at 5:30pm on Saturday with livescoring on