Welsh influence may decide wing's future

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The Independent Online
When Jonah Lomu makes his decision after the World Cup about which oval ball he wishes to chase, he will be guided by a Taff who is about to come home again to Wales after 12 years in New Zealand, writes Steve Bale. For the last six of those Phil Kingsley Jones has been coaching director of Counties, the rugby union to the south of Auckland which can now claim Lomu as its most celebrated 20-year-old.

Jones is returning not to his native Gwent but to take up a two-year position with Wrexham in north-east Wales - which is near enough to Wigan or even Leeds to cause suspicion. Taking on Wrexham may prove as troublesome as trying to tackle Lomu, since they were recently relegated from the fifth division of the Heineken League and the sixth is outside the national set-up.

Whether Lomu stays in rugby union or decamps to rugby league or American football, Jones as his manager and long-time confidant will have as critical an influence as he has had over the young man's extraordinary career. That said, there is a feeling among New Zealanders that amid all the ballyhoo here in South Africa the contribution of Ross Cooper, Counties coach until he became an All Black selector six months ago, has tended to be overlooked.

Jones, 46, was a prop-forward who played for Abertillery and was a professional comedian after beginning his working life as a collier. It was a fair achievement for an outsider to work his way up the New Zealand coaching ladder, initially with clubs in Auckland and then in Pukekohe, where the Counties team he and Cooper fashioned have risen to become one of the best provincial sides in the country.

If Lomu ends up taking the money and running out on rugby union, his manager can take it for granted that Jones not Jonah will take the blame. However, if we are to accept the word of Laurie Mains, the All Blacks' coach, it may not happen. "Rugby league cannot create what Test rugby has created and can create for him," Mains said yesterday.