Rugby Union: Lomu takes his place in frightening New Zealand back division

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The Independent Online
AS THEY may or may not say down there in the South Sea islands, it never rains but it hoses down. Having avoided playing the All Blacks at Test level for very nearly a century - rugby first made an appearance around Nuku'Alofa way in 1900 - the Tongans are now contemplating the distinctly uncomfortable prospect of tackling a single-minded New Zealand outfit strengthened by the presence of a certain Mr J Lomu, who just happens to be the most famous Tongan on the planet. Ironic? Just a touch.

"Jolly Jonah", as his many and varied victims laughingly refer to him, was last night given an immediate opportunity to leave his unique imprint on this latest World Cup, four years after he turned the last tournament into a one-man exhibition. Kept out of New Zealand's Tri-Nations starting line-ups by the outstanding Tana Umaga, Lomu's form on the training paddock has persuaded the silver fern selectors to gamble on a reshuffled back division incorporating the most outrageous talents available to them. Christian Cullen, a world-class wing and a universe-class full-back, will play at outside centre, with Jeff Wilson at No 15 and Andrew Mehrtens at outside-half. Frightening. Terrifying, in fact.

John Hart, the All Black coach, has also tinkered around with his pack for Sunday's Pool B match in Bristol, awarding the Canterbury back-five specialist Reuben Thorne a second cap on the blind-side flank ahead of the two Auckland contenders, Dylan Mika and Andrew Blowers. But it is the swift rehabilitation of Lomu, born in Auckland to Tongan parents 24 years ago, that will set the islanders pondering their immediate World Cup futures. If this new All Black three-quarter line clicks, someone somewhere will catch the mother and father of a hiding.

Cullen will be partnered in midfield by Alama Ieremia, who switches from outside to inside centre to replace Daryl Gibson. Hart first experimented along these lines during the Tri-Nations visit to South Africa and pronounced himself encouraged by the result, but he reverted to a more tried and tested formation for the recent defeat in Australia, perhaps to spare Cullen a steep and intensely physical learning curve against the unforgiving Daniel Herbert. The Tongans fancy themselves in the muscle department but they do not possess anything like the craft of the Wallabies.

The Scottish selectors avoided such experimentation when they named their side to face the Springboks at Murrayfield on Sunday in the one truly significant Pool A game. Alan Tait, a try-scoring Test Lion in 1997, is fit to take his place in midfield, so Jim Telfer and Ian McGeechan are able to retain the back division that prospered so handsomely during last season's Five Nations' Championship.

George Graham has seen off another Lion, Paul Burnell of the 1993 vintage, in the scrap for the tight-head prop position, while the influential Gordon Simpson, Auckland-born but now fully kilted and sporraned, gets the nod at No 8 ahead of Stuart Reid. Simpson is one of four New Zealanders in the side: Glenn Metcalfe plays at full-back, John Leslie returns at inside centre, and a second member of the Leslie family, Martin, turns out in the back row.

SCOTLAND (v South Africa, Pool A, Murrayfield, Sunday, 5.0): G Metcalfe (Glasgow Caledonians); C Murray (Edinburgh Reivers), A Tait (Edinburgh Reivers), J Leslie (Sanix, Japan), K Logan (Wasps); G Townsend (Brive), G Armstrong (Newcastle, capt); T Smith (Glasgow Caledonians), G Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), G Graham (Newcastle), S Murray (Saracens), S Grimes (Newcastle), M Leslie (Edinburgh Reivers), B Pountney (Northampton), G Simpson (Glasgow Caledonians). Replacements: J Mayer (Bristol), B Redpath (Narbonne), D Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), D Hilton (Glasgow Caledonians), R Russell (Edinburgh Reivers), D Weir (Newcastle), P Walton (Newcastle).

NEW ZEALAND (v Tonga, Pool B, Ashton Gate, Sunday, 3.0): J Wilson (Otago); T Umaga (Wellington), C Cullen (Wellington), A Ieremia (Wellington), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury), C Hoeft (Otago), A Oliver (Otago), K Meeuws (Otago), N Maxwell (Canterbury), R Brooke (Auckland), R Thorne (Canterbury), J Kronfeld (Otago), T Randell (Otago, capt). (Replacements to be named).