`I am hoping not to come across him again. He's a freak - and the sooner he goes away the better'

Most people in the England camp felt they were beaten by one man. Owen Slot reports

As England reflected on their crushing defeat by the All Blacks in yesterday's World Cup semi-final, one man dominated their thinking. Jonah Lomu may have needed his 14 team-mates to score his four tries, but the way Will Carling's men saw it they were beaten by No 11 alone.

Carling himself set the tone as he was interviewed in the immediate aftermath of the final whistle. Looking somewhat dazed, he smiled a little ruefully and said, "I am hoping not to come across him again. He's a freak - and the sooner he goes away the better."

Carling paid tribute to the All Blacks' all-round performance, but made it clear that Lomu had been the outstanding threat. "New Zealand have all the traditional strengths of an All Blacks side, and they are very disciplined as well as being a very fast and very dynamic team. But when you have someone on your left wing like Lomu, then it gives you an enormous advantage.

"Without being funny, if New Zealand didn't have him then the game could have been very different. Today the All Blacks played amazing rugby, but the real difference appeared out on their left wing.

"We tried to stop him but we couldn't and that's very sad for us. But the man is unbelievable. He's very balanced, has that incredible power and anyone coming on to the ball like he did is almost impossible to stop. He's an amazing athlete. When he's coming on to the ball like he did, I don't think there are many people who could stop him."

Jack Rowell, the England coach, agreed with his skipper. "New Zealand have a phenomenon on the wing," he said. "Someone from rugby league should have bought him before the World Cup started!"

"If you take Lomu out of the equation, things could have been very different. There were 16 points between us at the end and Lomu scored 20 for New Zealand.

"The New Zealanders have a lot of the Western Samoan-type strengths in their back line, and we saw in our group matches how dangerous their runners can be. Allied to that there is the traditional strengths of the All Black forwards and that is quite a combination. But Mr Lomu does have a big influence on the game.

"We got ourselves used to the pace of the game in the second half and it was more of a match then, especially as we were making our first up- tackles."

Rory Underwood, who watched his brother have to cope with much of Lomu's breaks from the relative safety of the other wing, said: "I have never seen anything like that before. He had a tremendous game and as a team we are disappointed that we didn't stop him. We set out to tackle him but we couldn't bring him down."

The New Zealand camp, only too well aware of the importance of Lomu to their World Cup ambitions, guard Lomu with an extraordinary paranoia. He has been shielded from the press in the manner of Ryan Giggs, and even after yesterday's triumph was not allowed to talk to reporters. They are also all too aware that Saturday's final may be his last game of rugby union.

"I'm sure that our prime minister will put the crown jewels up for sale to keep him in the game," said Laurie Mains, the All Blacks coach.

Before the game there was much talk about Lomu being weak in defence, but yesterday England barely tested him. When they did, he generally acquitted himself impressively, repeatedly dispatching Tony Underwood into touch by his jersey.

After one such manouevre Lomu, perhaps responding to the criticisms of his defensive capabilities, appeared intent on making a point to Underwood. England did try to find the space behind Lomu, but when they did he defied predictions and turned quickly to deal with the threat.

Would Ian Hunter have done any better than Tony Underwood? It seems unlikely. No wing in the World Cup has yet come close to it. On Saturday, it will be James Small's turn, and who in the world would envy him?

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