Lomu hails growth of second tier nations at RWC'07
Graham Jenkins
October 4, 2007

"It's been fantastic for rugby in terms of seeing the lesser nations grow in stature and become quite competitive." Jonah Lomu talks to scrum.com

New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu is revelling in arguably the most entertaining Rugby World Cup ever.

The famous winger, who launched himself onto the world stage at RWC'95 in South Africa, has witnessed at first hand some of the thrilling battles at this year's tournament as part of his role with broadcaster Eurosport.

"I think it's been great," enthused the 32-year-old when Scrum caught up with him ahead of the quarter-finals.

"It"s been fantastic for rugby in terms of seeing the lesser nations grow in stature and become quite competitive."

The impressive displays from the likes of island nations Fiji and Tonga as well as those of European sides Georgia and Portugal have made an impression on fans and media alike but Lomu for one is not surprised.

"I wasn't surprised at all; if anything I was expecting it to be like this, these teams have been there or thereabouts for some time now.

"A lot of these teams, not just Tonga, but the likes of Fiji and Georgia and so forth, these teams have definitely developed and shown what they can do with a bit of experience at the top level."

Lomu, who intends to return to action in New Zealand next year, is excited by the forthcoming quarter-finals and earlier this week backed New Zealand to progress to the final four in their battle with tournament hosts France.

But he also shared his thoughts on the weekend's other games.

So how about the re-match of the 2003 final with the Wallabies taking on England in Marseille?

"I think a lot of people are expecting it to go Australia's way but I don"t think it will be given freely to them," insisted Lomu.

"Especially if England decide to play a tight game, using their forwards predominantly. You'll see by watching any of the southern hemisphere teams that the way you get at Australia is through their forward pack.

"Their scrum has always had a question mark surrounding it, and the thing is not to give them the ball because when they do have it they have the ability to keep it for long periods of time.

"They can create space and on average about 8 phases before they open it up with the likes of Stirling Mortlock taking control."

So Australia for the semis? "In a close one maybe Australia but no one has really put any pressure on the front five it will be interesting to see.

"But with the amount of experience guys like George Gregan have it looks like a tough game for England but perhaps too close to call."

Lomu inssists the likely result when Argentina take on Scotland in Paris is much clearer to call, favouring the Pumas to power past the Scots.

"For me they have grown in stature, there is a belief in their team, a few years ago they may have been second guessing what they were doing on the field, but now they know exactly what they need to do and what has to be done to create the space and get the width that they need."

The other quarter-final sees South Africa and Fiji go head-to-head in Marseille where Lomu predicts the South Sea islanders will be up against it.

"I think Fiji can lift their game, but to beat them (South Africa) they would have to combat the South African forward pack, and there is so much power there.

"I think they'll match them in the backs, but the question marks lies with the forwards, if Fiji can hold their own up front then it should be a real, tight close match."

Like many observers Lomu has been surprised by the failure of Europe's major teams to find their best game on the most important stage, "I was expecting a lot out of some teams, and the likes of Ireland particularly have not stepped up to the mark.

"I don't know whether they've had all the preparation they needed, going on form earlier in the year it looked like they were going really well, but at the World Cup they haven't turned up. Maybe they"re mentally drained for some reason.

Lomu has been impressed by many the Rugby World Cup 2007 stars but his eye is naturally always drawn to the wingers.

So who in particular has caught his eye?

"One definitely would be the USA winger; I don't know how to pronounce his name and wouldn't even try!" jokes Lomu referring to the Eagles' Zee Ngwenya.

"For me as a winger, it was just outstanding," continued the world-famous Kiwi, describing Ngwenya"s outstanding try against South Africa.

"For a guy who is radiologist out of Harare, to turn someone inside out like that, especially Bryan Habana, and after that flick the old afterburners on - it was all over."

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