Lomu link-up inspires Blues to bigger and bolder thinking

Cardiff Blues 37

Saracens 20
Click to follow
The Independent Online

"By way of clarifying matters," pronounced the Cardiff chief executive Bob Norster during half-time on Saturday, "I want to confirm that it is definitely Jonah Lomu we've signed, not Joanna Lumley."

The way the Blues have performed over the last couple of seasons, the crowd could have been forgiven for wondering. A couple of hours previously, the old Lions lock had gone out of his way to insist that the new recruit would be travelling to Wales to play rugby, not head up some sharp-suited marketing wheeze designed to fleece honest working folk of their hard-earned money. With Gareth Edwards, who generally sits on the right hand of God, sitting with him, Norster could not have sounded more convincing.

But this is a gamble. Lomu has not played a first-class fixture since 2003 and has not completed a game since the previous autumn. When he turned out in Martin Johnson's testimonial match at Twickenham last summer, he smithereened his own shoulder rather than sundry members of the opposition. Oh yes, he also had a kidney transplant after spending years on dialysis. Rugby presenting the physical challenges it does, he is not obviously in a state to resurrect a career that once earned him fame and fortune beyond the imaginings of his sport.

"I wouldn't wish to use the word 'gamble'," Norster said, "but it's clear that none of us know for sure whether he will return to the kind of form that made him what he was. It will be interesting to see exactly what happens. But his doctor tells us he will be fully fit from the start of December, we've agreed a deal to the end of the season and we're confident he will make a significant contribution. There will be ancillary benefits, of course - in rugby terms, Jonah is still the biggest name around - but this is not an exercise in cynicism. He's been signed as a rugby player, pure and simple, and the by-products will look after themselves. Mind you, we have a few away games around the time we expect him to play. We might hold him back to stop other clubs cashing in on the big gate."

Those rugby folk to the west of the Severn who hold no brief for Cardiff, and there are many of them, are suspicious in the extreme. More than once at the weekend, the phrase "typical showboating Cardiff signing" could be heard on the lips of students of the game. But the capital club were far from alone in chasing Lomu - "We had a fair bit of competition, unsurprisingly, and we've had an exhausting and extraordinary week putting this deal together in the small hours of the night," Norster reported - and it is true to say that Lomu himself is utterly convinced of his ability to resume playing at a high level.

It might be argued that the news of this latest piece of business has already invigorated the Blues. They set about Saracens with a passion in their opening Powergen Cup pool game, dousing the fire of an aggressive opposing pack despite having Gethin Jenkins, the Lions prop, and both full-time hookers on the injury list. With ball in hand, they were in a different class. Craig Morgan's early interception try was a triumph of opportunism, but the second-quarter scores by Jamie Robinson and Robin Sowden-Taylor were beautifully created and executed from distance.

Saracens, currently leaking tries as if they have been holed below the waterline, somehow worked their way back to within seven points early in the second period, but they were never truly a going concern. When Mike Phillips, labelled the "new Terry Holmes" with good reason, made a mess of the visitors' fringe defence for the umpteenth time just past the hour mark and created a bonus-point score for the equally impressive Nicky Robinson, the Blues were home and hosed.

He is some player, this Phillips. He would walk into the England side right now and might have left a mark on the Lions tour had the selectors had the sense to pick him in the first place. With Rush, the former Auckland captain who won New Zealand caps last year before heading to these shores, looking after him at No 8 and Rob Howley putting a shine on his technique in training, the summer recruit from Llanelli Scarlets could make a real name for himself. Not a name as big as Lomu's, of course, but substantial enough for the purposes of a normal human being.

Cardiff Blues: Tries Morgan, J Robinson, Sowden-Taylor, N Robinson; Conversions N Robinson 4; Penalties N Robinson 3. Saracens: Tries Sorrell, Cairns; Conversions Jackson 2; Penalties Jackson 2.

Cardiff Blues: R Williams (capt); C Czekaj, J Robinson (R Powell, 70), L Thomas (M Nuthall, 40), C Morgan; N Robinson, M Phillips; J Yapp, D Goodfield (R Johnson, 73), B Evans (M Jones, 58), C Quinnell (D Jones, 64), R Sidoli, M Molitika (X Rush, 54), R Sowden-Taylor (M Williams, 64), A Powell.

Saracens: D Scarbrough; N Obi (B Russell, 70), K Sorrell, D Harris (A Powell, 72), P Bailey; G Jackson, M Rauluni (A Dickens, 47); N Lloyd (K Yates, 51), M Cairns (S Byrne, 61), B Broster (Lloyd, 79), S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 51), I Fullarton, T Randell, D Seymour (B Skirving, 33-40; 57), H Vyvyan (capt).

Referee: P Fear (Pencoed).