Rugby Union: Lomu given the all-clear to train

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Jonah Lomu, the All Black wing, has been cleared for full rugby practice but will not, as expected, take the field for his home side of Counties Manukau this Saturday.

Lomu's manager, Phil Kingsley-Jones, revealed yesterday that Lomu had been cleared for full-contact training but needed another check-up before he took the field. "But he's firing up and ready to go," he said.

Lomu pulled out of rugby in January to undergo an intensive drug treatment programme for a rare kidney disease. Kingsley-Jones declined to say when he expected Lomu to return but, contrary to media speculation, said it would definitely not be this Saturday against Wellington.

"New Zealand rugby is at the top of the world. He's playing against the best and he's got to be at his best before he takes them on. It's been eight months so we can wait another three or four weeks," he said.

"We've just got to concentrate on getting him fit. Once he's fit, then we'll know that he can play."

Lomu has progressed favourably after being on a punishing course of drugs since January. He remains on limited medication but the drugs are not on the banned list and are unlikely to pose a problem when Lomu finally dusts off his boots.

"I suppose its like a heavyweight boxer. When he's ready, he's ready. I don't want to put any pressure on him by saying that he'll be back on so-and-so date," Kinsgley-Jones said.

"I don't want the big fanfare. I just want him to come on the football field and play."

The Australian coach, Greg Smith, remains confident of keeping his job despite a record 61-22 loss to South Africa on Saturday and widespread speculation that he is about to be sacked.

Smith and his players returned to Sydney yesterday to news that the ACT Brumbies coach, Rod Macqueen, is the favourite to take the Wallabies on tours to Argentina and Europe later this year.

Smith, the chairman of selectors Paul McLean, and the players' representative, Brett Robinson, will all submit written reports to the ARU on the season so far, with Smith likely to address the ARU board at its meeting next Monday.

"I'm just confident that the people who sit on that board will look at everything fairly and will make an educated decision," Smith said.

Asked if he was confident of leading Australia to Argentina, Smith said: "Yeah."

Smith said he found criticism of himself difficult to understand after an unprecedented unbeaten tour of Great Britain last year. He has been in charge for 22 months and lost all five matches against New Zealand in that time.

"We've won four out of eight [this season] and we're two- thirds through the season and all of a sudden they have got to get rid of me," Smith said. "I don't quite understand that, unless someone is really obsessed with pushing it and that could easily be the case."

He said he thought he knew who his critics were but was not prepared to name them. The ARU chief executive, John O'Neill, who also returned from South Africa yesterday, confirmed he had spoken to Macqueen and Ross Turnbull, the architect of the failed World Rugby Corporation, who is a strong supporter of the former national coach, Alan Jones.

O'Neill said Macqueen had approached him last week to assure him he was not connected with any speculation over Smith's position. O'Neill also revealed that while Jones, who coached Australia from 1984 to 1987, had a lot of good qualities, he did not think Turnbull's push for the former coach was regarded seriously in rugby ranks.

But with the biggest hint yet, when asked about the former Australian assistant coach Alec Evans, who is now in charge at Cardiff, O'Neill said that he would like to see him involved again in Australian rugby in some capacity.

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