Lomu looms ominously in Cardiff's starting line-up

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The Independent Online

Jonah Lomu has played bigger teams than Ghial Rugby Calvisano in the course of his astonishing union career; indeed, in terms of acreage, he is probably bigger than Calvisano itself. It is to be confidently expected, therefore, that the unusually substantial New Zealander will put one or two tries past the underpowered Italians when he makes his debut for Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup tie at the Centro Sportivo San Michele tomorrow.

Lomu has been on Cardiff's books for only a few weeks, having pitched up from All Black country last month, and it is fair to say that there are those who continue to see his signing as a publicity stunt of the most blatant kind. He has not played a full game of rugby since undergoing kidney transplant surgery last year and, despite personal assurances to the contrary, the sceptics assume that two current accounts - one belonging to the club, the other to the player himself - will benefit rather more from his unlikely sojourn in South Wales than the long-suffering paying public at the Arms Park.

There is, however, no denying that the Big Bloke is willing to give it his best shot. Yesterday the Blues named Lomu in their starting line-up for the immediate business down Brescia way, and if he survives a reasonable chunk of the 80 minutes ahead of him he will present himself before the home supporters when the Italians pay their return visit to Cardiff a week tomorrow. Jolly Jonah twice in seven days? It is enough to make their underdogs wonder whether they might have been better off sticking with football.

To make life more difficult, they must also arm themselves against one of Lomu's fellow All Blacks, the inspirational loose forward Xavier Rush, and the outstanding front-row forward in last season's Six Nations Championship, Gethin Jenkins. Rush has regained fitness after an operation on a troublesome shoulder, while Jenkins, who finished the Lions' tour of New Zealand suffering from a similar problem, has declared himself ready for the fray.

Much to the relief of those who regard top-level European rugby as the most captivating offering of the annual rugby campaign, the Heineken Cup returns tonight with a pair of quality fixtures. Saracens, up and running after victories over Biarritz and Treviso, face a stern test of their mettle against Ulster in Belfast, while Sale, perhaps the one English team properly equipped to make this season's final, visit Castres.

Thomas Castaignede, back in international favour in France, reclaims his place in the Sarries line-up, while a clutch of fellow senior players - Kyran Bracken, Glen Jackson, Dan Scarbrough, Kevin Sorrell, Cobus Visagie, Kevin Yates and Simon Raiwalui - also return to action.

Meanwhile, the Premiership clubs have officially confirmed that England internationals will not be rested from two rounds of club action that coincide with the Six Nations preparation plans of Andy Robinson, the red-rose coach. The players concerned will be released for agreed training days, but will be expected to play both the weekend before the England-Wales match at Twickenham and in the Powergen Cup semi-finals at the Millennium Stadium on 4 March.

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