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
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.”