Tokyo: One trampling run launched Jonah Lomu to global stardom, ensuring his name will be indelibly linked to a Rugby World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and England.
The All Blacks winger’s rampaging runs during that era-defining World Cup in South Africa in 1995 were highlighted by his four-try haul against England in the semi-finals.
Before the teams meet in another semi-final this Saturday in Yokohama, there’ll be no avoiding remembrances of Lomu’s legacy. He died in 2015 at the age of 40 after complications from a kidney disease.
One of those tries against England, when he gathered a loose pass, fended off opposite winger Tony Underwood, kept driving forward despite a desperate ankle tap from Will Carling and then barreled straight over the top of England full-back Mike Catt, is part of rugby folklore.
Catt helped the coaching staff with this Italy team at the World Cup, where a group game between the Italians and New Zealand was cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis.
He recalled that 1995 showdown for World Rugby, saying his first World Cup was going well until that moment.
“We’d beaten Australia the week before, won with a drop goal by Rob Andrew,” Catt said. “Then along came the big man and he ran over me. The three times after that, he just ran around me.”
The All Blacks don’t have a winger of Lomu’s calibre in the 2019 squad, but they’ve built a fearsome reputation with an unbeaten record dating to a shock quarter-final loss to France in 2007.
New Zealand thumped Ireland 46-14 in the quarter-finals this year, deploying Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett in a dual playmaker system that proved to be a vastly better option than the strategy devised for the previous three meetings between those two countries. Ireland had won two of those three Tests, including one last November, and were ranked No. 1 heading into the tournament.
England equalled their record-winning margin against Australia with a 40-16 win in Oita only hours earlier. Australia had contributed to England’s group-stage exit in 2015, when they were hosting the tournament. But under Australian coach Eddie Jones, England have rebounded to win seven in a row against the Wallabies.
England won a world record-equalling 18 straights Tests from October 2015 to March 2017, matching the New Zealand mark from August 2015 to October 2016. Although England haven’t had that kind of success against New Zealand. The All Blacks have won 15 of the last 16 Tests against England, including the last six, up to a 16-15 win at Twickenham last November.
“They’re a very good rugby side. They’ve come to this tournament after being hurt at the last one and through that adversity, I think they’re stronger because of it,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of England. “They’re desperate and they’re well coached. It’s going to be a mighty clash. They’ve got a harder edge about them.”
Hansen said New Zealand’s win in the last two encounters against England was not a bad thing, but not really an advantage at the World Cup.
“I don’t want to be sounding rude or smart here, but we got told that about Ireland having an advantage over us having won two of the last three,” Hansen said. “History is important, but it doesn’t dictate the future - it’s a clean slate, it doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past.”
Jones has been busy trying to focus the attention on the All Blacks this week, continuing a theme of praise for opposition players and coaches while devising ways to bring them down.
“We have a challenge this week because we are playing the greatest team that has ever been in sport,” Jones said. “If you look at their record I don’t think there’s a team that comes close to them for sustainability.
“You have to admire them, but then the challenge is to beat them and the reason I took this job is because I saw a team that could be great. That was the challenge and they are starting to believe it.”