Is Chesney the English Jonah Lomu?

Saracens have a man large and fast enough to gain comparison with the best. David Llewellyn talked to him
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The Independent Online
Ever since the World Cup countries all over the globe have been searching for their own version of New Zealand's Jonah Lomu - so far without success. But in a corner of north London the impossible looks to have happened. There has emerged an embryonic - and English - version of the giant All Black wing.

Vengeance is abroad for Tony Underwood, who suffered agony heaped on humiliation following the World Cup match when 6ft 5in, 20 stone Lomu, having run through the England right wing's inadequate defences on the pitch, then appeared in an advertisement for Pizza Hut, in which Underwood came off second best again.

But now help is at hand thanks to Saracens, who have unearthed a potential blockbuster. Kris Chesney is not only big enough to swipe that pizza out of Lomu's massive grasp - and with impunity - he could have made it in the first place. He is a 6ft 6in chef, who weighs 17 stone. And at 21 he is still growing.

He is not far behind Lomu's bulk and looks fast enough out on the Saracens' right wing to be dubbed "the Galloping Gourmet". However, Saracens did not know what they had unearthed when Chesney first arrived at Southgate from Barking RFC - a route trodden before by Jason Leonard, the England prop.

Unlike Lomu, Chesney was not born into rugby. In fact he has only been in the game for something like four and a half years. His Pilkington Cup appearance against Rugby Lions just before Christmas in which he scored two well-taken tries, was only his fourth game on the wing.

The way Chesney tells it, his introduction to rugby was an accident. He explains: "When I was younger I played football until I got a bad knee injury. Originally I was told I would be out for about six months, it turned out to be two years. When I had just about recovered a friend took me down to Barking for fitness training. And I started throwing the ball around and within a couple of weeks I was in the Barking colts team."

Chesney played chiefly in the second row for the East London club with the occasional appearance in the back row. Saracens' coach, Mark Evans, explained: "He trained with us for two or three months last year while he was still playing for Barking. He was in the second row then for London Under-21s and on the bench for England Under-21s as a lock. We told him he would be a back row for us because he wasn't big enough for a second row."

Saracens are renowned for developing back-row talent - Ben Clarke and Dean Ryan preceding the current crop of Anthony Diprose and Richard Hill - so their decision to try Chesney there was no whimsical notion.

Evans said: "When I saw Kris in the gym and I looked at his times, I thought he was a bit quick and had him down for an open-side. So that's where we started him in the seconds. He looked OK, but after a couple of weeks Tim Wright, the second XV coach, said that Chesney did all his best work out in the backs."

It was the first glimmerings of a change in direction. Chesney takes up the story: "I love running the ball and handling is no problem, I played a lot of basketball when I was at college.

"My pace was what convinced them I could be switched out to the wing. They had seen Jonah Lomu and seeing me they decided to give me a go. They are quite impressed with my speed, I am up with the likes of the wingers Martin Gregory and Pete Harries and they are quick."

Chesney seems to have been able to take the conversion in his giant stride, although he acknowledges: "It has been a bit of a rush job. I have been putting in a lot of work in the last few weeks, especially on my lines of running, going off the left foot and the right foot. Then there's defence, the full-backs at the club have been helping me out with that, and generally all the boys are giving me a hand."

Chesney has another weapon at his disposal. His hand-off of would-be tacklers. Not content with evading their clutches, Chesney keeps a huge paw on them and, as they are being driven like tent pegs into the ground, they form a firm base from which he can relaunch, if necessary, his run to the line.

"We stuck him on the wing in a development XV against West London Institute and he scored four tries," Evans said. "We put 70-odd points on them and that was some result because we had mostly under-21s playing."

Chesney clearly likes rugby life in North London. "I've really enjoyed the move," he said. "It was a big step from Barking, but I thought the time was right for a move up."

Chesney is every inch the modern rugby player and his view of the game most certainly does not encompass outmoded ideology or the amateur ethos.

"Ever since I was a youngster I have wanted to go into professional sport," he said. "Luckily for me rugby is going that way and so if I can latch on to it somehow it will be really good. I would happily give up catering."

He certainly does not have a great deal of time what with work and, well, work. "I get up at 5.30, in work by 6.30," says the son of an East End father and a German mother with a dash of Scandinavian, "back home around 4pm then it's down to the gym, or over to the track or up to the club. I am doing a lot of speed drills and running techniques because I am a bit of a lump," he said.

And despite being a chef, Chesney confesses: "I still live at home so my Mum does all my meals for me." He also admits to being a pie and veg man. But no doubt he will enjoy the occasional pizza in future, depending on who is holding it of course.

How they compare

JONAH LOMU

Age: 22.

Height: 6ft 5in.

Weight: 19st 8lb.

Province: Counties. Position: Wing. Speed: 10.8 sec over 100m (time recorded a couple of years ago). Occupation: Bank officer. Marital status: Single. KRIS CHESNEY

Age: 21.

Height: 6ft 6in.

Weight: 16st 12lb.

Club: Saracens. Position: Wing. Speed: In training, not wearing spikes, 20m standing start: 2.77 sec (wing Martin Gregory is fastest at club with 2.66sec). 20m rolling start: 2.27sec. 30m standing start: 3.92 sec. Occupation: Chef. Marital status: Single.

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