Lomu the unstoppable

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BY DISPLAYING themselves in their full plumage too early in the tournament, the South Africans have provoked the other leading contenders into a similar show of force. Anything the Springboks can do, the All Blacks like to think they can do better, although the quality of the opposition under the floodlights at Ellis Park last night was admittedly somewhat inferior to the Springboks' opponents in the opening match last Thursday.

But then no side has had to cope with anything like Jonah Lomu. This super-charged battering ram was simply unstoppable, his two tries being scored with Irishmen bouncing off him in all directions. But if his tries were not spectacular enough, later in the game he made all the running for what will surely go down as one of the tries of the tournament. Taking a long pass deep inside the All Black half, he ran through a series of Irish tackles before being brought down a yard short of the line. But as he crashed to earth he flipped the ball up to Josh Kronfeld, who had thundered up in suppport to score the try.

The Irish spirit, which had until that point remained unbroken, was finally shattered. They had battled bravely throughout the game and indeed had enjoyed much the better of the opening skirmishes through the tenacity and organisation of their forwards, disrupting the tightly controlled phalanx of All Blacks forwards and preventing them from mounting a concentrated attack. Their reward was three tries, all of them from the forwards, Gary Halpin getting the first and Denis McBride the second just before half- time. David Corkery's try came too late to alter the result, but it was a measure of Ireland's commitment and their refusal to yield to opponents who were clearly superior in all departments of play.

Despite their lack of height in the line-out the All Blacks were still able to make effective use of their limited resources, particularly through Ian Jones in the middle and Jamie Joseph at the back. Their scrummage packed low and looked ominously secure, giving the All Blacks half-backs the time and space they wanted. This was especially important for young Andrew Mehrtens, filling the gaping hole which has been left since the retirement of Grant Fox. Mehrtens finished with a total of 18 points from four penalties and three conversions, and in his general play displayed a control and composure far beyond his years.

When Halpin plunged over from a short penalty move after eight minutes, the All Blacks were visibly shaken and showed traces of vulnerability. It was short-lived, however, and as the half progressed the All Blacks moved up a gear. Lomu became an increasingly influential force and with his deceptively languid style crossed over for the first of the All Blacks' five tries. In addition to the two he scored and Kronfeld's spectacular effort, the other scorers were Frank Bunce and the impressive full-back, Glen Osborne. If Mehrtens seems the likely long-term successor to Fox then Osborne surely is the natural heir to John Gallagher.

Eric Elwood's tactical precision deserted him in the closing stages and Osborne was the chief beneficiary, with some glorious counter-attacking. He was up sharply to take advantage of a quick penalty taken by Graeme Bachop to score.

No one who watched last night can any longer be in doubt that the All Blacks are seriously intent on regaining the trophy they won eight years ago. What is more, they appear to have the team to do it and in this respect Ireland's defeat was no disgrace. If they are to progress beyond the pool stage it looks as if they will have to do so without their full-back, Jim Staples. He left the field with a suspected broken hand which, if confirmed, means that he will almost certainly miss the rest of the tournament.

New Zealand: G Osborne (North Harbour); J Wilson (Otago, rep ny M Ellis, Otago, 31), F Bunce, W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens, G Bachop (Counties); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (Auckland, capt, rep by N Hewitt, Hawke's Bay, 55-62), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones, B Larsen (North Harbour), J Joseph (Otago), M Brewer (Canterbury), J Kronfeld (Otago).

Ireland: J Staples (Harlequins, rep by M Field, Malone, 35); R Wallace (Garryowen), B Mullin (Blackrock), J Bell (Ballymena, rep by Field, 11- 19), S Geoghegan (Bath); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork); N Popplewell (Wasps), T Kingston (Dolphin, capt), G Halpin (London Irish), G Fulcher (Cork), N Francis (Old Belvedere), D Corkery (Cork), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone).

Referee: W Erickson (Australia).