Ma’a Nonu didn’t win the respect and admiration of his South African opposite Jean de Villiers with a big tackle or a crunching run.
The All Blacks second five-eighth saved his classiest moment for the quiet of the changing room where doctors surveyed his broken forearm at halftime during Saturday’s Rugby Championship match at Westpac Stadium.
Nonu’s test, and season, were over, a steel plate inserted in his arm yesterday morning, but as the ambulance doors swung open to take the 32-year-old across town to Wellington Hospital, Nonu thought not of his misfortune and considerable pain.
Instead, he pulled off his No 12 jersey and instructed his handlers to take it to the opposition changing room where it could be collected by de Villiers after he completed his 100th test for the Springboks.
The Wellingtonian has had his share of controversy over the years, but his gesture on Saturday night was one of real class, an ideal of sportsmanship perfectly summed up by de Villiers after the match.
“We make it as tough as possible on the field and there will be some shots away from the camera, in the rucks, and hard tackles and words said . . . but as soon as we walk off the field we can see that respect and camaraderie,” he said.
“I’ve played him and Conrad [Smith] so many times and the great thing was when I got back to the changing room Ma’a had already given his jersey to me as well, even though he went to the hospital.
“That just shows it’s a professional sport and we play as hard as we can, but these two teams are able to be gentlemen off the field and enjoy each other’s company. That to me is more important than the game itself.”
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