Free spirit Geoghegan goes back on the attack

Ireland's wing threequarter talks to Owen Slot about life after Jonah Lomu
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Of all the wings he has had to tackle in international rugby, Simon Geoghegan rates Rory Underwood and Patrice Lagisquet as the hardest. On Saturday, Jonah Lomu won himself a place in their exulted company, yet Geoghegan still managed to bring the All Black giant down to earth. Not many of his Irish team-mates could say the same.

Yesterday, after a training session in preparation for tomorrow's match against Japan, Geoghegan delivered a whistle-stop guide to the toughest tackles in the game. "Rory Underwood is so stocky, he's got a low centre of gravity, so you've got to go low on him. Lagisquet was difficult because he was so quick and he had this ability to swerve beautifully on the outside. He wasn't a big guy, just a beautiful runner.

"Normally if you're facing a straight-running wing, they tend to be a bit easier to stop than people like Underwood and Lagisquet, who can change direction. Lomu doesn't really change direction, but, well... he's quite big, similar to Va'aiga Tuigamala, except that he's tall as well as colossal. And he uses his hands like Tuigamala too, even if you get him down low he'll try to push you away. So all you can do is wrap yourself round his ankles."

That is what Geoghegan did. Midway through the second half, Lomu set off from the All Blacks' 22 and crashed through five Irish tackles, but Geoghegan stuck to him like glue. "I was lucky," he said. "You've got to take him from the side. If he's running straight at you, you don't have much chance."

For a player of such flair in attack, it takes a game like Saturday's to demonstrate quality in defence. It is, though, an area on which Geoghegan has worked extremely hard. "A lot of it is judgement, just trying to make the right decision at the right time," he said. "But you've got to remember that, playing for Ireland, you get a fair amount of practice."

Few people, however, are unaware of Geoghegan's prowess with the ball in hand. He has himself clocked a 100 metres time of 10.5 seconds and can change direction as well as Lagisquet ever could. Jim Staples, Ireland's injured full-back, recalls the day back in 1988 when Geoghegan arrived for his first training session with London Irish. "He got the ball and started zig-zagging his way up the field. I tried to follow him, but didn't have a clue where he was going. I still don't."

There was no lack of understanding between Staples and Geoghegan off the field. Staples would drive Geoghegan to andfrom training and when Geoghegan moved to Guildford to study law, Staples added an hour to his route to accommodate him. They roomed together for away fixtures, as they did when Staples followed Geoghegan into the Ireland team in 1991.

On the international scene, Geoghegan was an immediate success, scoring three tries in his first Five Nations' Championship. While Staples lost his place in the national side for two years, Geoghegan has been a permanent fixture. "Obviously he's extremely talented, but it is his dedication that has kept him there," Staples said. Such dedication now involves commuting from London to Bath, his new club, twice a week for training. "I thought I took the game seriously until he bloody came along," Staples said. "He is so single-minded he can just shut off his social life completely."

Geoghegan is a law unto himself on the field too. On the day before a fixture, he will often turn up to training wearing trainers and a pair of glasses, a sign that he knows that he is ready, that he is not going to exert himself and that the others should not waste their time by passing to him. No one else is given such freedom. In the game itself, he again assumes a free role, in the same mould as David Campese. Before Saturday's match against the All Blacks, Staples gathered his threequarters round him to explain that the opposition would be kicking a lot and to tell them from what positions they could expect him to kick back again. Geoghegan immediately turned away from the group; they could do what they wanted, he said, he just wished to be left to get on with his own job.

His job, tomorrow, will revert to scoring tries. "It is so much harder these days to find a bit of space," Geoghegan said. "You need three or four good rucks before you can move the ball wide effectively. Ireland's problem is that we struggle to get beyond two phases."

This, though, will not be the case tomorrow. Geoghegan is expecting plenty of ball to run with and the Japanese can, in turn, expect to find him as much of a problem as the Irish found Lomu.