Jonathan Davies: Lomu and Cardiff - the perfect match

All Black legend and famous club are working well together to prove cynics wrong
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The Independent Online

Jonah Lomu's return to rugby already ranks as amazing. If he gets anywhere near achieving his ambition to be in the New Zealand squad for the 2007 World Rugby Cup it would be the greatest comeback of all time.

The doubters, and that included most of us, said he was on an impossible mission. Getting into any World Cup team would be hard enough but the All Blacks, with the wingers they have? Yet every match he plays for the Cardiff Blues means that there are fewer prepared to write off his cause as hopeless.

It is still a monumental challenge and it is very difficult to estimate how close he will get to realising his dream, but we could be watching the early stages of a miracle.

His first achievement has been to answer those who said that his arrival in Wales was a mere gimmick - a chance for Lomu to get his last fat pay- packet and for the Blues to boost their gates.

He is certainly improving attendances, but there is no doubt that he is here on more than a wallet-filling exercise. He is not getting a huge amount of money, anyway. He is on a serious and dedicated campaign and every match has seen a visible rise in his confidence and appetite for the game.

The fans have not taken long to pick up the message that he means business. In a week, his presence twice broke the Celtic League attendance record. There is not a club ground in the United Kingdom that he could not pack right now.

He and the Blues are together for genuine reasons. The club needed a class winger and he needed a friendly place and a high-enough level of competition to enable him to regain his form and fitness. It was a gamble for both parties but it looks like becoming a winning one.

Lomu and his wife are very fond of Wales and the Welsh are equally impressed with him, so he has been under no pressure. The Blues wisely nursed him through his preparations and training and have introduced him slowly into the action.

His performance against the Scarlets at Stradey last Monday was evidence of the progress he has made in just four games. He is nowhere near the same player as he was at his awesome peak, yet, but each game has seen an improvement.

Lack of pace is his most obvious weak point, but when you consider what he has been through this is not surprising. Speed is the first thing that leaves you when you have had a lay-off as long as his.

Besides, his present speed must not be judged against the Lomu who could once do 10.8 seconds for the 100 metres, but instead he should be measured against the man of a few years ago when severe neuropathy from the knees down made even walking difficult.

What people don't realise is that never in his career has Jonah Lomu been 100 per cent fit. In his first 10 years he had a constant battle with a rare and serious kidney disease.

It did not stop him becoming the youngest player ever to be an All Black and the highest try-scorer in World Cup history. He was rugby's first global superstar, but by the age of 28 he needed eight hours of dialysis every day just to stay alive.

His kidney transplant saved his life, and it would be easier for him to pack in rugby and lead a normal existence. He loves the game too much to do that. He is firmly convinced he can get back to the top, and when you consider the handicaps he had to overcome in the past you would be foolish to doubt his ability to do it again.

What has struck me most about him in his past two games is how much of an all-round player he is. Our memories of him are mainly of a spectacular power-runner who devastated defences with surging, irresistible charges.

What we didn't realise was how adept he is at handling, taking a high ball, offloading at the tackle - he made a one-handed pass out of a tackle last week that was sheer class - and getting involved in the rucks. When he was so explosive he never had to show his skills, but he is a much better footballer than people give him credit for.

The Blues appear to have turned something of a corner themselves and are capable of beating Perpignan in the Heineken Cup next weekend, which would all but put them into the quarter-finals in April.

That would give Jonah another three months on the comeback trail. If the hard work that he is putting into his speed training under the guidance of the track sprinters Linford Christie and Darren Campbell starts to bear any sort of fruit, he could be adding a touch of the old thundering force to the Blues at just the right stage of the season. His ambitious goals could look a lot nearer by then.

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