Rugby Union: Bristol hoping history will tempt Lomu

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The Independent Online
BRISTOL LAST night appeared to be winning the race for the signature of the All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu with a deal said to be worth pounds 1.1m, despite offers from their Allied Dunbar Premiership rivals, London Irish, and rugby league's Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

Bristol are hopeful that Lomu will sign a contract with them by the end of the week. The player's contract with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union expired after the All Blacks' World Cup play-off defeat against South Africa.

Reports over the weekend suggested the 24-year-old had already signed a two-year deal with Bristol, but the club's chief executive, Nick de Scossa, would only confirm that the club had been in discussions with Lomu.

"We had a long meeting with the player on Saturday to put forward our proposals and we are awaiting a decision from his management," De Scossa said. "I presume that they've had talks with a number of clubs as well as Bristol because Lomu is a very marketable commodity. What his management have said to us is that they are looking at more than just money.

"It is about the lifestyle that the player can expect, where he might live and what sort of club he would be joining."

De Scossa is believed to have met the player and his agent, Phil Kingsley Jones, on Saturday. The club are unwilling to discuss what terms have been offered but have stressed that it would be on a par with those paid to players such as South Africa's Henry Honiball and Agustin Pichot, of Argentina. "The package that we have tabled stays within the pounds 1.8m salary cap. It doesn't involve employing his agent or the agent's wife as one paper suggested," De Scossa said. "Other clubs are pitching in for the player but one thing that we have sold to him is the tradition of the Bristol club and the ways that we are trying to reignite enthusiasm for the game at the Memorial Stadium."

Also in the hunt for Lomu's signature are London Irish, whose coach, Dick Best, has spoken with the player's agent and is expecting to hold more negotiations. "We have had talks during the last week," Best said. "We are always exploring possibilities and we have made an offer to bring Jonah to London Irish We will have to see what happens but we have made a financial offer to him and we are hoping to talk again, but at this stage the talks are tentative."

The Saracens coach, Alan Zondagh, believes Lomu will not be joining the Allied Dunbar Premiership. Saracens owner Nigel Wray met Lomu's agent at a recent dinner and the pair discussed the winger's future. But Zondagh denied reports that Saracens had offered a seven-figure sum for his services. "I very much doubt he will be playing in the UK this season. I can't see how it can be done within the salary-capping rules," he said.

Should the player decide to switch codes, Wakefield looks his most likely destination. The Wildcats' chairman, Ted Richardson, said: "We have made a very serious offer. He wants a little more time to think about it. He wants to make sure it's the right decision."