Rugby Union: Lomu, the wing from hell, ready to revive England's worst nightmares

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The Independent Online
Ten months ago, Jonah Lomu's chances of rebuilding an All Black career undermined by serious illness looked non-existent.

Chris Hewitt reports on the giant wing's remarkable victory over medical opinion and says England will be confronted by a force of rugby union nature on Saturday.

Just when Clive Woodward and his fellow selectors thought life could not conceivably get any more intimidating, their All Black counterparts yesterday disabused them of the notion by uttering two little words that added up to something large. As England spent their time rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic, New Zealand trumped them spectacularly by naming the Titanic on their left wing.

Yes, Jonah Lomu - the Himalayan he-man, the Cape Town crusader, the threequarter from hell - is back in business and he will take an awful lot of sinking at Old Trafford on Saturday. Two tries in Tuesday night's flawless 59- 22 victory over Emerging England in Huddersfield were enough to convince John Hart, the All Black coach, that Lomu's recovery from a debilitating kidney condition was complete and that it was time to reach once more for the outsized No 11 shirt - some would call it a No 11 sheet - buried at the bottom of the Kiwi kitbag since his last Test appearance, against Australia 16 months ago.

"I'm in shock," said Lomu last night. "Being named for this game was more memorable than being picked for my first Test. If I'd been wearing a pacemaker it would have gone off the scale. All I can say is that the selectors have put their faith in me and my focus is on turning in an 80-minute performance on Saturday.

"What happened against England in the past is dead and buried. This is a new era, a new All Black side and anyway, I don't think the English are afraid of me or anyone else. Some people seem to love these mind games, but I'm not the brightest guy so I don't even bother. I'm only interested in playing my own game."

It was in June 1995 that Lomu's four-try performance sent Will Carling's side reeling out of World Cup contention. Tony Underwood, his direct opponent in Cape Town that day, took a season to rediscover his bearings - a torment David Rees, the Sale wing who confronts him this weekend, will be hoping to avoid.

Rees was at his noncommittal best as he considered the implications of Lomu's return yesterday. "Well, there was always the possibility he would play, wasn't there?" He shrugged, leaving Woodward to put the best face on a difficult, not to say depressing, situation. "David is an outstanding tackler and while we'll have to think about Lomu, at least we know exactly what he'll do, or attempt to do," said the coach.

Hart's decision to play Lomu in front of Osborne was the one definite change to the side that gave a bold Irish outfit some heavy hammer in Dublin last weekend. The coach will decide between his two world-class open-sides, Josh Kronfeld and Andrew Blowers, as soon as the extent of the minor injuries affecting both players become clearer.

Woodward, meanwhile, has committed himself to a double change in the front row, a necessary reaction to the scrummaging fragility all too evident during last weekend's error-strewn match with the Wallabies at Twickenham. The question marks surround personnel, not policy; in picking Richard Cockerill, the Leicester hooker, ahead of Mark Regan and Andy Long, and giving Darren Garforth, his club-mate, a rare opportunity on the tight head in place of the injured Will Green, England are pinning their hopes on two-thirds of a Tigers' trio that has fired more blanks than bullets in recent weeks.

"The scrum was the area that stopped us playing right from the start last Saturday," said Woodward. "With Martin Johnson in the second row we have a strong Leicester presence in the front five. That unit has to do its stuff because the way the game is played now, it's all down to the scrum."

Well, almost all. As David Rees, eight inches shorter and six stones lighter than Lomu, is likely to discover on Saturday, physical confrontation is not the sole preserve of the heavy brigade up front.

ENGLAND (v New Zealand, Old Trafford, Saturday): M Perry (Bath); D Rees (Sale), W Greenwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), A Adebayo (Bath); M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill), D Garforth, M Johnson (all Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), A Diprose, R Hill (both Saracens). Replacements: P Grayson (Northampton), A Healey (Leicester), G Rowntree (Leicester), A Long (Bath), D Grewcock (Saracens), N Back (Leicester).

NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen (Manawatu); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), A Ieremia (Wellington), J Lomu (Counties Manukau); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury); C Dowd (Auckland), N Hewitt (Southlands), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), R Brooke (Auckland), T Randell (Otago), Z Brooke, A Blowers (both Auckland) or J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacements: S McLeod (Waikato), J Preston (Wellington), Blowers or Kronfeld, C Riechelmann (Auckland), M Allen (Manawatu), A Oliver (Otago).