Rugby Union: Lomu in cross-Channel tug-of-war

David Llewellyn charts the latest twists in a giant transfer story

ON THE pitch, Jonah Lomu's route and destination are generally easy to work out, but yesterday his own destiny was shrouded in mystery. A report had claimed that the giant All Black wing had signed a deal with Allied Dunbar Premiership club Bristol.

However, the West Country side were in denial over the alleged pounds 1.1m move. Malcolm Pearce, the multi-millionaire owner of Bristol, was reportedly due to join Lomu in Cardiff for the signing prior to the World Cup final, but yesterday Pearce said: "I am at home today. I am not going to the World Cup final."

Bob Dwyer, Bristol's coach, said: "I have heard nothing linking Jonah Lomu with this club, and if it happened I would find it astonishing. Surely if he was about to sign for Bristol I would know something about it. I would expect to be involved in discussions with any prospective player."

Bristol's chief executive Nick de Scossa was adamant, saying: "We have not approached Lomu or his agent. We have not had any contact with him, so there is no way a deal has been done."

But according to the report, the New Zealand RFU had failed in a last- ditch attempt to persuade the 24-year-old Lomu to sign up for a further four years, although a move to the northern hemisphere would mean, under current NZRFU legislation, that his burgeoning All Black career was over after just 38 caps.

Such a sacrifice would be a major down-side to any such move, although no doubt a reported annual salary of pounds 555,000 might help soften such a fall from national grace.

But with his agent Phil Kingsley-Jones also denying any deal with Bristol, then perhaps there is some substance to the claim that Lomu's future has still to be settled.

According to Kingsley-Jones there are at least half a dozen clubs, English and French, which are still expressing an interest in the powerful wing. He added that Lomu had not rejected a renewed four-year contract with the All Blacks.

Lomu has been a subject of similar speculation since the game turned professional. At 6ft 5in and 19 stones, the All Black wing, a possessor of pace as well, has proved a potent weapon for New Zealand since his Test debut back in June 1994. That was against France at Lancaster Park in Christchurch, a match which was marked by Lomu becoming, at 19 years and 46 days, the youngest player ever to wear the Silver Fern, while it was also the game in which Phillipe Sella gained his 100th cap.

However, life since has not been a complete bed of roses for Lomu. While he may now be the record try scorer in World Cup history with 14, and an overall tally of 25 in Tests for the All Blacks, his private life has not always gone smoothly. Three years ago, Lomu was diagnosed as suffering from a career- threatening kidney problem, an illness which sidelined him for 12 months.

But he returned to international action and within months was helping the All Blacks to a Commonwealth Games gold medal when he put the Lump in Kuala Lumpar.

The speculation has been fuelled by the fact that Lomu is coming to the end of his current New Zealand contract. There has been constant interest shown in Lomu from Rugby League - the latest clubs chasing him are Auckland and Leeds. The latter would want the Counties star to turn out for their Union outfit as well.

And in addition to Bristol and the NZRFU, Lomu is also reported as having been targeted by Allied Dunbar Premiership Two side Worcester, as well as those unidentified French clubs.

THE WORLD OF JONAH

1975: Born 12 May in Auckland, New Zealand.

1994: Makes his All Blacks debut against France at Lancaster Park, youngest ever New Zealand Test player.

1995: Wins a runners-up medal in the World Cup after becoming star of the game, scoring four tries in semi-final against England.

1996: Out of game for 12 months with career-threatening kidney problem.

1999: Spends most of the Test season on the bench but returns to customary left-wing berth in time for the World Cup, during which he becomes record try scorer in World Cup history with career total of 14.

CAREER RECORD

Counties Manukau and Waikato Chiefs: 115 games, 385 pts, 77 tries.

Tests: 38 Tests, 125 pts, 25 tries.

Youngest player to score 10 Test tries and first to score 12 in a calendar year.

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