Friday, March 30, 2007

Jonah refuses to bow

May 9, 2006

Jonah Lomu is rebuilding for France next year, and expects to be in a black jersey.

Brendan Gallagher of the Telegraph reports on Jonah's comeback attempt and gets some good mileage from Lomu's old AB skipper Sean Fitzpatrick:

"He has already won his fight a hundred times over, as far as I'm concerned, but I know he won't rest easy until he's exhausted every possibility of getting back into the All Blacks squad. That shy young teenager I first knew has become an incredible man in his maturity and an inspiration to us all.

"I've never seen anybody like Jonah in his prime, just awesome. And to realise that he was just a teenager and was already struggling with his kidney problem and operating at only 80 per cent, it makes the mind boggle.

"I first picked him up on the radar as a young sevens star and he was called into the All Blacks team to play France aged 18, the youngest All Black in history. We roomed him with John Kirwan, one of the other legendary wings in the world game.

"But it was a year too soon, really, and it was totally the wrong opposition. France are New Zealand's bogey team to a certain extent and Jonah needed to know what was coming his way. But you never get that from France.

"They won the series 2-0, New Zealand went into mourning, myself and others were left fighting for our international careers and Jonah was dropped. He didn't play any worse than anybody else but New Zealand rugby was in turmoil and he was dumped. We can be pretty ruthless but he grew up in that environment. He knew the score. There was no long-term damage.

"Then came 1995. Laurie Mains was the new coach - 10-15 years ahead of his time - and he was also determined to get Jonah fit. He knew the big fella was very special, though like the rest of us he had no idea that he was already struggling with illness. No matter, Jonah at 80 per cent was still an incredible specimen, as the world was about to discover.

"Nothing in rugby will compare with Jonah Lomu in 1995 and again in 1996 with New Zealand and the Auckland Blues. He scored some simply unbelievable tries for Auckland when we won the Super 12 that year. He redefined what could be done, physically, on a rugby field.

"Rugby had seen very big, fit men but never anybody that big and that quick. Jonah could outsprint known speedsters on the outside and that, technically, made him just about impossible to tackle, because once an opponent is reduced to trying to tackle him with one trailing arm, all is lost.

"Full health and fitness would have given Jonah the ability to do that again and again and the experience to pick his moments even better. There was so much more there to come and perhaps there still is. It's a miracle of sport to think how ill he was in 1999 and yet how good he still was - remember that try against England at Twickenham and the two he scored even when we lost the semi-final to France? Incredible."

Read the rest.

Nick Greenslade of the Guardian also gets in a quick Q&A with the big fella.


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