Lomu: Savea is a spe­cial tal­ent but please do not com­pare him to me

All Blacks leg­end tells Jim White the na­tion’s new star must be judged on his own merit

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Jonah Lomu is a MasterCard Rugby World Cup 2015 am­bas­sador

There is one thing Jonah Lomu would rather not hear dur­ing what re­mains of this Rugby World Cup: any­one else re­fer­ring to Ju­lian Savea as ‘the new Jonah Lomu’.

“No, no, no, I’m not hav­ing that,” says the gi­ant former All Black. “I don’t be­lieve for a mo­ment he wants to be called the new Jonah Lomu. I’m very flat­tered, but don’t dis­re­spect him by say­ing he’s like me. He’s not. He’s like him. He’s Ju­lian Savea. It’s his jer­sey now. It’s not mine.”

Lomu has been in England for three months now, cov­er­ing ev­ery step of a World Cup he de­scribes as the most sig­nif­i­cant tour­na­ment in the game’s his­tory. He has been en­rap­tured by Ar­gentina, he leapt out of his seat when Ja­pan beat South Africa, he was hugely dis­ap­pointed when Scot­land fell at the last to Aus­tralia. But what has thrilled him as much as any­thing has been watch­ing Savea, the New Zealand wing whose barn­storm­ing scale, pace and ath­leti­cism have drawn all those com­par­isons with him at his best. But he fears that the urge to find sim­i­lar­ity is be­lit­tling the cur­rent All Black No 11, with the im­plicit sug­ges­tion that he owes his place in the side not to his own qual­i­ties but be­cause of phys­i­cal re­sem­blance with a former hero.

“Ju­lian is play­ing his own brand of rugby, which is fan­tas­tic for the game,” says Lomu. “I don’t think the com­par­i­son is fair be­cause it’s his time in the jer­sey. He’s done all the hard work. He hasn’t been picked be­cause he’s big like me. Peo­ple only see the fi­nal prod­uct, they don’t see what you have to go through to get there. I know what I had to go through to pull on that jer­sey. And only he knows what he had to go through to get his jer­sey. But one thing he didn’t do, was get it be­cause he plays like me.”

Lomu should know; he has been watch­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the young wing with fas­ci­na­tion – and a grow­ing re­spect – for some time.

“I was aware of him com­ing through the ranks. From the first time I saw him, he ex­cited me. He’s a very ta­lented foot­baller. But what I like most is he is get­ting bet­ter with each year.”

What par­tic­u­larly ap­peals to Lomu is the man­ner in which Savea, from the mo­ment he stepped into the All Black team, has drawn from the more es­tab­lished play­ers.

“It helps his de­vel­op­ment be­cause he’s got such great peo­ple around him. For such a young guy, hav­ing play­ers like Dan Carter, Richie McCaw along­side means he can only get bet­ter. That is if he uses that to his ad­van­tage, which he shows ev­ery sign of do­ing.”

In that urge to learn, Lomu says, there is a point of com­par­i­son with his own de­vel­op­ment.

“I was 19 years old, still the youngest ever All Black, when I ran out on the Test field for the first time. I got to run out with my

‘From when I first saw him he ex­cited me, and he gets bet­ter each year’

he­roes: Michael Jones, Sean Fitz­patrick, Zin­zan Brooke. You can’t be in­tim­i­dated by that ex­pe­ri­ence, you have to learn from it. You say to your­self: right what can they teach me? When you do that it will stand you in great stead. And I see that in Ju­lian.

“Ju­lian is so lucky to have Ma’a Nonu in­side him with 100-odd Test matches, Con­rad Smith played 90 odd, Dan Carter 100-plus. It’s like a li­brary of ex­pe­ri­ence him. And the great thing is, he’s taken that op­por­tu­nity with both hands.”

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