May 09, 2006

Jonah Lomu: - the New Zealand All Black hero, burst onto the international rugby scene in the World Cup in South Africa in 1995. Bigger than many forwards and faster than most backs, he set a new benchmark in the game. This season, he began an incredible comback having had a kidney transplant in 2004. He gave this interview with the Observer Sport Monthly last weekend - don't you just hate it when they're brilliant AND modest? [more inside - including some delicious YouTube clips]

posted by JJ to other at 10:08 AM - 11 comments

[from the Observer interview] People remember the try I scored when I appeared to run through Mike Catt. That's not really fair on Mike - I had already been half-tackled and was losing my balance. Mike being there was lucky for me, because when I stumbled into him our combined body-weights were enough to take me over the line. What I'll say about Mike is that he has something I don't - a World Cup winner's medal. Who's laughing now? This montage [YouTube], of the All Blacks at their best, features that very try at around the four minute mark. Lomu's description is magnanimous beyond the call of duty - he demolished Catt! In 1999, against France, he was still on form. He's even been seen doing his bit for wildlife.

posted by JJ at 10:16 AM on May 09

I don't watch much rugby at all, but Lomu, at his best, was the best I ever saw. I'm so glad he's coming back, even now, and I'm doubly glad that he sounds like a good guy on top of everything else. And those clips are awesome, though the overlaid song on that first one is terrible.

posted by chicobangs at 01:04 PM on May 09

Total legend. Just think what he could have done if a large chunk of his career hadn't been wiped out with illness? Saw him playing a couple of times for the Cardiff Blues year and he was still immense, despite being nowhere near the player he was in the early 90s.

posted by afx237vi at 05:19 PM on May 09

Lomu was certainly exhilarating, but he wasn't actually a very good winger. Umaga (in his time on the wing), Kirwin, Rokocoko, Howlett, and Wilson, to name a few, have all been streets ahead of Lomu in terms of work rate, positional play, agility, defense, and ball skills. Have a look at Rokocoko 's try in the JJ's highlights reel, the one that comes after the famous Lomu-on-Catt try; look at Joe spin and dance around defenders, and throw a perfect pass while going to ground. Lomu could *never* have done that, even at his best.

posted by rodgerd at 10:32 PM on May 09

In Tonga, have visited at least four villages that claim to be Jonah Lomu's birthplace. I have also met several thousand of people claiming to be his cousins. In 1996 they even named a new volcanically created island after him. Unfortunately it sank a few months later. And rogerd, while Rokocoko is a great player, Lomu didn't have to spin past defenders. He just used them as speed bumps.

posted by owlhouse at 10:45 PM on May 09

rodgerd - fair enough, he might not have been the best winger the All Blacks ever produced, but it's a bit harsh to say that he wasn't very good. Regardless of work rate, positional play, agility, defense, and ball skills, on the list of all time points scored for the All Blacks, he's tenth. In terms of tries (for wingers): Lomu = 37 in 63 tests Wilson = 44 in 60 Howlet = 41 in 50 Umaga = 36 in 74 Kirwin = 35 in 63 Hokeycokey = 30 in 30 (nice) So he wasn't too shabby.

posted by JJ at 04:11 AM on May 10

"Have a look at Rokocoko 's try in the JJ's highlights reel, the one that comes after the famous Lomu-on-Catt try; look at Joe spin and dance around defenders, and throw a perfect pass while going to ground. Lomu could *never* have done that, even at his best." So what...? For one, Lomu didn't need to do a spinaroonie because he had double the bulk of Rokocoko and could either run through or over defenders and carry them across his back (see half his tries). And two, as far as throwing "perfect passes" when he goes to ground, look no further than the 1995 RWC when Lomu set up several tries when he gained 60 yards, had three defenders on his back, and still managed to offload to free men who scored, or the 1996 Bledisloe decider, where the ABs decisive breaks had Lomu twice slicing through the Wallaby backline and off-balance falling down offloaded perfect passes for others to score. You may not rate him, and it's true that most rugby fans don't rate him as the best-ever to play the game. But he's still the most awesome and spectacular and famous rugby player the world has ever seen, and there's good reason for that -- he exploded on the world stage in front of the biggest audiences and showed a strength and power and pace that rugby fans had never seen before. I doubt he'll make Super 14 again, let alone wear a black jersey at the 2007 RWC, but he has his dream and I say all the power to him, it's his life.

posted by the red terror at 07:33 AM on May 10

If you want the perspective of someone who knows a bit more about the game than I do, this past weekend ex-All Black captain (and the most capped AB in history) Sean Fitzpatrick was interviewed by The Telegraph about Lomu. Some choice quotes: "I've never seen anybody like Jonah in his prime, just awesome. And to realise that he was just a teenager and was already struggling with his kidney problem and operating at only 80 per cent, it makes the mind boggle." ... "Nothing in rugby will compare with Jonah Lomu in 1995 and again in 1996 with New Zealand and the Auckland Blues. He scored some simply unbelievable tries for Auckland when we won the Super 12 that year. He redefined what could be done, physically, on a rugby field. "Rugby had seen very big, fit men but never anybody that big and that quick. Jonah could outsprint known speedsters on the outside and that, technically, made him just about impossible to tackle, because once an opponent is reduced to trying to tackle him with one trailing arm, all is lost."

posted by the red terror at 07:43 AM on May 10

How Mike Catt wishes all he had managed to get in the way was one trailing arm. It still rates as one of the most passionate cheers I've ever heard from an Irish crowd (in a pub watching it on TV) when that happened, and it makes me laugh every time I see it. Thanks for the link, red terror - a good read. I can see it now - Lomu makes the squad for next year, then the team, and in the final they beat their bogey team to claim their first RWC since '87. That would probably let the guy ease up on himself and retire!

posted by JJ at 09:55 AM on May 10

owlhouse: while Rokocoko is a great player, Lomu didn't have to spin past defenders. He just used them as speed bumps. Except for, say, the South Africans, against whom he never scored a try because they, you know, tackled him out of the game. Lomu certainly frightened the fuck out of the Northern Hemisphere teams who weren't used to playing against big, strong men out wide. He was somewhat less successful against stouter defenses. the red terror: You may not rate him, Actually, I do rate him. But I think I rate him a little more accurately than the hagiographic "best player in the world evereverever!" nonsense that arises around him. As a fast, big winger, he was a devastating weapon, especially in tandem with Wilson, who gave the All Blacks every skill you could want out wide between them. But he was essentially a one-dimensional player, and weak on defense. JJ: but it's a bit harsh to say that he wasn't very good. That's mostly a fair call, but he certainly wasn't a good all-around winger. To pick a modern example, Rokocoko will support players in a ruck in a way Lomu never did. Most modern wingers (Ben Cohen excepted!), and most pre-Inga wingers could cover some fullback duties in defense. You couldn't trust the guy under the high ball.

posted by rodgerd at 11:03 PM on May 10

He didn't support players, he sported them. He sported opposition players like an overcoat, before off-loading to someone else to score. The Boks figured him out better than anyone though, you're right: vs South Africa: 12 games, no tries vs Australia: 13 games, 6 tries vs France: 8 games, 4 tries (and my favourite) vs England: 7 games, 8 tries I suppose that last statistic is a clue as to why he's so highly rated where I come from. I grew up watching rugby on British TV (in Northern Ireland), so for those guys (the talking heads they throw in front of the camera before and after games) he was pretty much the bogey man. I developed the same opinion to the point that I was amazed when I went to my first ever Super 12 game that the Costal Sharks (as they were then) fans really thought they could beat the Blues, despite the latter having Lomu on their team. In the end, they did beat them, and comfortably. I still think though that calling him one-dimensional is like calling Pete Samprass one-dimensional - if it works again and again, why would you start trying to play differently? The hagiographic stuff comes from the illness-robbed-him-of-his-best-years angle I think - as Fitzpatrick said, imagine what he would have done if he'd been fully fit for a long spell. He definitely changed the way the game was played - something all the other wingers you've mentioned won't be remembered as having done (because they didn't).

posted by JJ at 06:11 AM on May 11

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