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Nonu Fends Off Two-man Team Claims

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By Mark Geenty of NZPA

Marseille, Nov 23 NZPA - Ma'a Nonu can brush off defenders as well as anyone. But this was more persistent than any test rugby opponent.

The All Blacks midfielder, one of the team's nominated interviewees on a pre-test Monday in Marseille, needed to be armed with his best verbal fend.

The subject? Not surprisingly a touchy one for the All Blacks as they prepare for France: are you just a two-man team?

The inquisitor, a rugby writer for a French newspaper, wasn't giving up easily and by the end of it Nonu looked as if he'd rather be extracting his toenails with a set of pliers.

Question: There's a feeling in some parts that this team is too dependent on Dan (Carter) and Richie (McCaw)... can you tell me about the difference, playing with them and playing without them?

To be fair, Nonu played ball, speaking of Carter's and McCaw's obvious attributes, rating Carter the best rugby player in the world and saying their absence from any All Blacks team made a difference.

But after six questions on the topic, Nonu was over it.

"If you put France against DC and Richie by themselves obviously we're not going to win are we? They are two keys in the team but they can't do it by themselves."

The pair's influence on the All Blacks is clear: in the past two years the team have lost six tests: four to South Africa and one each to France in Dunedin and the Wallabies in Sydney.

Just one of those defeats, the 29-32 scoreline against the Springboks in Hamilton in September, saw both Carter and McCaw on the field.

They were both there for the All Blacks' recent wins in Cardiff and London, both hard-fought victories but frustrating because the side's much-vaunted attack couldn't fire. The All Blacks have scored just five tries in four tests on this tour so far.

Nonu, the 45-test veteran and one of the senior men in the backline, put his hand up highest to take responsibility for their stuttering attack which needs to fire at Stade Velodrome on Sunday (NZT) if they are to complete another unbeaten northern hemisphere tour.

"Maybe we're not scoring tries because it's my fault, I think. I'm not creating the opportunity for the outsides and not giving enough information to DC. That's where I've got to be a lot harder.

"I guess I am (taking the blame). At this level everyone's got their own job to do, the midfield's got a big job defensively but on attack we've got to create more opportunities for the outsides."

Nonu said the 19-6 win over England, which attack coach Steve Hansen rated one of their best recent efforts for a long time, summed up their frustrations.

"It's been a tough tour. Attacking-wise we haven't really produced any good opportunities.

"The last few games we've only had a few strikes where we've had a chance from first phase twice or three times. I'm not that good at scoring tries but I hope to score some. It is a worry."

Nonu rested a minor knock to the knee at today's recovery games on an artificial soccer pitch in the Marseille sun, but wasn't considered a doubtful starter.

All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson declared all 34 players were fit for selection, a handy effort by the medical staff after a marathon season which began more than nine months ago.

Reserve hooker Corey Flynn (hamstring) ran lightly and should be fit to return.

Prop Neemia Tialata, whose troublesome knees see him excused from training on hard surfaces, is also set to return, as is Cory Jane who Hansen rated the team's form winger of the season.

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