Inside man keen to put Nonu nightmare to bed
Destroyer ... Ma'a Nonu.
THERE will be many things running through Pat McCabe's head when he takes the field opposite Ma'a Nonu in the final Bledisloe Test tonight. The pair's last encounter will not be one of them.
The Wallabies inside-centre will be doing everything he can to block out any memory of that demoralising showdown, when Nonu, in Blues colours, ran rings around McCabe and the rest of the Brumbies in the final qualifying round of the Super Rugby season.
''I don't have fond memories of that game at all,'' McCabe said of the 30-16 loss that snuffed out hopes of a finals berth for the Brumbies. ''We went into that game extremely confident, and it wasn't a particularly happy afternoon.
''Ma'a was certainly very dominant over me that day, and I think physically he was pretty dominant that day over the whole team, so it's obviously not something that I've tried to think a great deal about and it's not something I think will have any bearing on the game at the weekend.''
It does raise the question, if Nonu was able to gain ascendancy so easily playing alongside the likes of Michael Hobbs and Francis Saili, imagine what magic he might conjure in partnership with All Blacks five-eighth Dan Carter and outside-centre Conrad Smith.
McCabe said the game against the Blues drilled home how important space is to his opponent and the All Blacks attack. Starve them of it and you have a chance to starve them of opportunity.
''It starts as a team. Obviously you face off against each other but, for the most part, you don't run into each other all that often in a game,'' McCabe said.
''In 80 minutes we might run into each other only three, four, five times, so we've got a big job as a whole team to try and keep him quiet, and I think, as much as you can, trying to shut down his space and time is the key.''
Tonight is McCabe's fourth Test outing since a lower-leg stress fracture forced a six-week hiatus. Fast-tracked straight into the starting line-up against Argentina on the Gold Coast, the centre has set out, in every outing since, to repay the faith of Robbie Deans.
It has gone to plan for the most part. There was the yellow card 11 minutes into that first match, when McCabe played the Pumas halfback without the ball, but his self-flagellating reaction was as good an insight as any into what makes the 24-year-old tick.
''One thing about being part of the team is that you certainly don't want to let the team down,'' he said. ''So when I'd done that by getting yellow-carded it was a pretty nervous 10 minutes thinking they were going to score some points against us … Certainly that was my first yellow card, and hopefully it was my last.''
Tonight he lines up alongside Kurtley Beale at No.10 and rookie outside-centre Ben Tapuai for the first time in that midfield combination. McCabe is characteristically honest about the challenges presented by the trio's comparative inexperience but also upbeat in his own, quiet way.
''We've got, I think, a bit of an unknown quantity with the three of us, and I hope that will work in our favour … You don't have any of those past experiences or hang-ups that some of the guys might have who had played them a lot,'' he said.
His and winger Adam Ashley-Cooper's anchoring presence in a back line that has changed around them will be needed tonight against the smooth operators of international rugby. Every ounce of experience will be needed to stem the All Blacks tide. McCabe knows it. He might have been quiet the last night Nonu hurtled downfield in his direction, but you can't believe he will let it happen again.
''I think to beat the All Blacks you're going to go through some tough periods,'' he said. ''They're an extremely good team, and it's never going to go your way for the full 80 minutes.''