All Blacks' lead hard to follow

Tim Glover says the New Zealanders' running game is an example to the rest of the world of how the game should be played - copying it is something else
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The Independent Online
When the legendary Bobby Jones first caught sight of Jack Nicklaus mastering Augusta National he remarked: "He is playing a game with which I am not familiar." Anybody who has come into contact with Jonah Lomu in the last month would probably echo the sentiment.

For Golden Bear read Raging Bull. Since he ran through Ireland in his opening match, leaving a trail of green jerseys in his wake and illuminating Johannesburg's Ellis Park, Lomu has influenced the World Cup to such an extent that England, on top of the world one minute, were destroyed the next and forced into introspection. Back to the drawing board. Instead of practising drop kicks, just like Rob Andrew, thousands of young, impressionable minds should now be tempted to run with the ball, just like the All Blacks.

After Lomu's four tries in the semi-final, Jack Rowell, the England coach, thought the All Blacks' performance more akin to rugby league than union. "It is something we have been looking at in our own back yard," he said. What he won't find in his own back yard is somebody who plays as if he is a cross between Jesse Owens and George Foreman. In any case, league has a tendency to hire a threequarter and stick him in the pack. What New Zealand have done with Lomu, who played No 8 at school, is quite the reverse.

Rowell called him a phenomenon; Will Carling said he was a freak. Gavin Hastings remarked: "He's a big bastard all right."

"What Carling said wasn't very nice but the fact is it's true," John Hall, the former Bath and England flanker, said. "I watched Lomu against England in a state of total shock. Look at all the players on the scene and there are guys as big as him but nobody as fast. He caught Tony Underwood from behind and believe me Underwood is very, very quick."

Hall, whose appointment as Bath's new team manager is expected to be confirmed next month, added: "I disagree with Jack. I don't think New Zealand were playing a league style, it was more total rugby. It's what Bath tried to do in the cup final against Wasps and it's what Jack has been trying to get England to aspire to. Whoever put Lomu on the wing was a visionary. If he was in England he'd probably still be stuck in the pack.

"The New Zealand style is the way forward but the question remains, how do you get hold of this man? Tony Underwood was slightly out of position when he attempted to tackle him. His angle was wrong. You can't show him the outside and expect to stop him. Apart from being incredibly fast, strong and balanced he'll hand you off with his right arm."

Rowell admitted he had thought of playing a bigger man opposite Lomu. Hall, who was noted for his tackling, says it would not have made the slightest difference. "Tim Rodber is 18st and about 6ft 4in and Lomu bowled him over at one point."

Hall watched the Lomu show in the company of Tony Swift, Bath's record try-scoring wing. Hall asked Swift how he would have played Lomu. "I wouldn't," Swift replied. "I'd have gone off with a hamstring."

Rowell indicated that had it not been for Lomu England could have beaten the All Blacks but that is wishful thinking. New Zealand, despite the extraordinary presence on the left wing, are not a one-man band. England's tackling was weak and the outstanding try from the outstanding Josh Kronfeld had nothing to do with Lomu but everything to do with Jeremy Guscott's missed tackle on Walter Little.

Whereas New Zealand would not dream of leaving out Kronfeld, who is relatively small, Neil Back, his equivalent, cannot find a place in England's large but cumbersome back row of three No8s. As far as the All Blacks are concerned it is not size that is important, it is pace. Lomu happens to have the lot.

The All Blacks, terrified of the threat from rugby league, are also driven by the public relations desire to match the feat of Black Magic, the New Zealand yacht that breezed to victory in the America's Cup. There may be a pair of rugby boots in every New Zealand loft but there is a boat in every other garage. Thus the All Blacks have been forced to play a 15-man game and they have the threequarters to do so, from the service of scrum-half Graeme Bachop to the pace of Glen Osborne at full-back.

"They've got a whole range of talent and they've shown the most refreshing attitude in the tournament," Tony Russ, coaching director of Leicester, England's champion club, said. "They're more flexible than they've ever been. They've changed, we haven't. It's the kind of development England and Jack Rowell have had in mind but whether we can do it with the existing players is another matter. They're locked into a system. Our style is good enough to win the Five Nations but it was never good enough to win the World Cup. We play it tight, kick it and hope for a penalty.

"Lomu got his first pass after one minute, Rory after 60 minutes. The first time England got into the New Zealand 22 Rob Andrew kicked it. The first time New Zealand were in their own 22 they ran it, and scored a try. Lomu didn't play against Japan and the All Blacks scored 145 points. If you wipe Lomu out they'll still play enterprising rugby."

When New Zealand won the World Cup in 1987 they had a sensation on the wing called John Kirwan who was big, fast and strong. He was not, however, as big or as fast or as strong as Lomu. Kirwan turned professional and it is not just New Zealand but everybody in the world connected with union who will be praying that Lomu stays in the game. By 1999, when the World Cup comes to Britain, he will be 24. By then he should be in his prime.