Rugby union: No relief for tourists as Lomu lies in wait

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GLAD TIDINGS from the land of the Long White Cloud: the arch-destroyer, red rose nemesis and walking mountain range known as Jonah Lomu is back in English faces and a virtual certainty to confront them in the first of two Tests at Carisbrook, the so-called "House of Pain", on Saturday week. If by any quirk of rugby fate he should miss the Dunedin international, England will instead face Joeli Vidiri, the 16-stones plus Fijian. Don't start praying. Vidiri is considered by many New Zealanders to be the better of the two.

The outsized Counties wings have been bracketed together for the opening game in a rubber that now appears to possess all the competitive edge of a turkey shoot. "I don't think I have to tell you how highly I regard Jonah's gifts," said John Hart, the All Black coach, in Auckland yesterday. "But he needs a gallop after recent injury setbacks and that's why we've named him in the New Zealand A side to play England at Hamilton this weekend. If he doesn't front up, we'll go with Joeli in the Test. We've been waiting to get him involved."

It will not come as any consolation to Clive Woodward and his tourists that Lomu and Vidiri have been firing off each other in training over the last few days. "I'm fitter, faster and fresher than ever before and I'm running 40-metre sprints in under five seconds," said Lomu disconcertingly. "Unfortunately, Joeli keeps slipping past me in the last 10 and it's beginning to get to me."

Lomu has lost seven kilos, well over a stone, since he last pulled on the Silver Fern at Twickenham last December, and regards this weekend's second-string appearance as his personal "D-Day". So, in many ways, does a far greater All Black performer, the flanker Michael Jones.

The so-called "Iceman" from Auckland returns to the international fray after the second total knee reconstruction of his legendary, if injury- blighted, career. "He amazes me; the man defies logic," said Hart. "Like Jonah, he's had injuries of late. But we've rested him, looked after him and now he's back in the squad with a spring in his step. I have always known that if there is one guy who will never fail the All Black jersey, it's Michael. He remains the best blind-side flanker in New Zealand."

As expected, Taine Randell takes over the captaincy on a long-term basis from the recently retired Sean Fitzpatrick. Mark Mayerhofler, of Canterbury, makes his international debut at centre while two Auckland colleagues, Junior Tonu'u and Anton Oliver, make their first Test starts at scrum- half and hooker respectively.

Randell anticipated the wounded tourists to respond positively to their drubbing by the Wallabies. "England will be really hurting after their defeat by Australia," he said. "They've got nothing to lose, which makes them dangerous opposition and given the Australia result there will be tremendous public pressure on us."

NEW ZEALAND (v England, Dunedin, 20 June): C Cullen (Wellington); J Wilson (Otago), M Mayerhofler (Canterbury), W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu or J Vidiri (both Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), O Tonu'u; C Dowd (both Auckland), A Oliver (Otago), O Brown, R Brooke (both Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), M Jones (Auckland), T Randell (capt), J Kronfeld (both Otago).