LONDON • New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu has come a long way since admitting he wore eyeliner in matches and dying his dreadlocks blond in the early part of his career.
The explosive centre will become the sixth All Blacks player to make 100 Test appearances when he lines up against Tonga in the Rugby World Cup in Newcastle today.
"He was different but we all were," his centre partner Conrad Smith said. "He was younger and he'd be the first to admit he had a different approach, a different attitude about a lot of things. Ask any of us what we were like 10 years ago, though, and we'd all say the same."
Nonu has developed into one of the finest centres in the world, a powerful ball carrier with the ability to break the line and a style likened to that of former All Blacks captain and centre Tana Umaga.
"I've seen a lot change and it's been great to see the way he has evolved into the guy he is now. It's good for him and great for the team," Smith said.
TRIED AND TESTED
To play 100 Tests with the All Blacks takes a special man and a lot of hard work and dedication.
DANE COLES, All Blacks hooker
Nonu, who made his All Blacks debut in 2003, has scored 29 tries for his country and is the most capped All Blacks inside-centre.
The 33-year-old will line up today alongside two other All Blacks with 100-plus caps - prop Tony Woodcock and fly-half Daniel Carter, with another on the bench in the form of Keven Mealamu.
"I first met him in 2007 at the Wellington Lions and played a bit of footy with him," hooker Dane Coles said. "Even when I was young, I used to go to all the games and watch him play.
"To play 100 Tests with the All Blacks takes a special man and a lot of hard work and dedication."
All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, 24, praised Nonu's influence on younger members of the squad like himself.
"You would think he's a daunting character to play with when you look at his stature but he's a cool fella, always giving me little cheeky remarks that sort of calm your nerves a bit," he noted.
The All Blacks have won their first three games against Argentina, Namibia and Georgia to qualify for the quarter-finals.
A win at St James' Park will see them top the group, ahead of Argentina.
POOL C: NEW ZEALAND V TONGA
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