Ireland become Lomu's first victims

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The Independent Online

reports from Johannesburg

New Zealand 43

Ireland 19

Ireland were prepared for New Zealand and they thought they were prepared for Jonah Lomu. "Of course we had a plan," Gerry Murphy, the coach, said. "It was to tackle him. Listen, Colin Meads doesn't know how to stop him and if he doesn't know, who does?"

The legendary Meads (he trained with a sheep under each arm, that sort of thing) is one of New Zealand's managers here and he was asked if he had ever seen a player quite like Lomu. "I've seen lots of people like him," Meads replied, "but they didn't play on the wing."

After the most sensational World Cup debut, Lomu, who was 20 two weeks ago, faced the press for the first time and sat, almost child-like on the stage. There was no sign of emotion although we were drawn to an excessive movement of the right side of his neck where a rather large muscle seemed to be working overtime. "I just wanted to play out of my skin so I'd be selected for the next game," he said.

On a cold night under the floodlights of Ellis Park Stadium, Ireland gave one of their finest performances. They were at their roisterous, boisterous best and but for the enormous presence of the 6ft 5in, 19st Lomu on the New Zealand left wing the Irish might have enjoyed their finest hour.

As it is they enjoyed their finest half-hour, unsettling the All Blacks with the ferocity and skill of their play. Jeff Wilson, on the New Zealand right wing, had already been battered twice before a well-worked move from an indirect penalty led to Gary Halpin crashing through the All Blacks back row. This was an extraordinary role reversal. When he emerged from beneath the bodies, Halpin raised two fingers to the opposition, an act for which he was later admonished by manager Noel Murphy.

Ireland held the lead until the 32nd minute when Michael Bradley attempted to fly-kick the ball into touch and instead kicked it into the hands of the last man on earth Ireland wanted to see in possession. Lomu drove through Richard Wallace and for the first time the All Blacks gained a degree of composure. Their second try also owed more to Irish carelessness than anything else when Frank Bunce charged down Brendan Mullin's kick.

Suddenly the All Blacks were 20-7 ahead and Ireland lost their impressive full-back, Jim Staples. He broke a bone in a hand following a reckless challenge from Wilson, who also departed. Wilson complained of blurred vision although the management later said it was an ankle injury. If it was, in fact, concussion he would follow Staples out of the tournament.

Ireland were behind 20-12 at half-time, Denis McBride finishing off a brilliant move but every time they got close, the long black cloud of Lomu overshadowed them. Holding the ball in one hand as though it was the size of an egg, he scored another try and then left a trail of prostrate green jerseys in his wake with a weaving run that set Ellis Park alight and emphatically underlined the brutal power of the man.

From inside his own half, he broke through four tackles and would have scored but for Simon Geoghegan tenaciously clinging on to an ankle like a dog with a bone. However, Lomu slipped the ball to Josh Kronfeld, who only had a yard or so to the line. Terry Kingston, the Ireland captain, suggested the only way to stop Lomu was to tackle him with a shot-gun.

The Tongan, playing only his third international, is by no means the finished product and McBride halted him on one of his rhinoceros charges, although it took the flanker a long time to get up. On the one occasion Wallace had a chance to run at Lomu he rounded him with ease - so there is a chink in the armour. It's when he's got the ball in his hands that the opposition tend to look like a formation of skittles in a bowling alley.

Ireland, however, continued to pick themselves up and scored another excellent try. Three tries against any All Blacks side is riches indeed and the scoreline was cruel on Ireland. "The result doesn't matter as long as you win," Noel Murphy said. He did not think the All Blacks were as awesome as previous years and added: "Perhaps there's a slight weakness in their pack. There are competent sides at the top but not great sides. We've shown how open this World Cup is."

Ireland matched the New Zealand forwards in most phases but the penalty count went against them 15-6, enabling Andrew Mehrtens to demonstrate that, like Lomu, he will be a prolific scorer in the competition. "It's nice to know I've got somebody there who can run through teams," the stand- off said.

NEW ZEALAND: G Osborne (North Harbour); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), G Bachop (Canterbury); C Dowd (Auckland), S Fitzpatrick (Auckland, capt), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), B Larsen (North Harbour), J Joseph (Otago), M Brewer (Canterbury), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacements: M Ellis (Otago) for Wilson, 31; K Schuler (North Harbour) for Brewer, 74.

IRELAND: J Staples (Harlequins); R Wallace (Garryowen), B Mullin (Blackrock College), J Bell (Ballymena), S Geoghegan (Bath); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution); N Popplewell (Wasps ), T Kingston (Dolphin, capt), G Halpin (London Irish), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), D Corkery (Cork Constitution), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone). Replacement: M Field (Malone) for Staples, 36.

Referee: W Erickson (Australia).