Boks kept Jonah ‘blank’, but ...

2015-11-18 14:02
Jonah Lomu (Gallo)

Cape Town – The Springboks carry the praiseworthy statistical mantle of never having allowed Jonah Lomu, the now deceased rugby legend, over their try-line in 12 encounters with him.

The longer the “shutout” record endured the more spiritedly, it seemed, South Africa resolved to defend it.

After all, stoical physical commitment is writ large in the DNA of the Boks, and stopping the freak of nature that was Jonah Tali Lomu – the 63-cap All Black has succumbed to kidney disease, aged 40 – was generally deemed the most formidable yet honourable of challenges by the men in green and gold.

The only trouble was that, rather like embattled firefighters putting all their efforts into one front while others picked up worrisome momentum nearby, the near-obsession with keeping the speedy bulldozer quiet in try terms only opened up gaps elsewhere on the park for the grateful likes of Christian Cullen or Doug Howlett to exploit.

That is why Lomu’s failure to cross the whitewash against the Boks didn’t mean he experienced unrelenting, corresponding misery from a team perspective: the Aucklander still found himself on the winning side seven times in the dozen bilateral Test encounters he played in between 1995 and 2002 (twice as a substitute).

That said, his win percentage record of 58.33 against South Africa was only worse – and in negative territory – against two other foes, Australia (46.15%) and France (43.75%).

Lomu boasted a 100 percent victory record, by contrast, against as many as eight rugby nations during his New Zealand career.

He was especially prolific from a personal tries perspective against England, who leaked eight of his 37 for the All Blacks, in only seven meetings.

Apart from the Boks’ almost extraordinary record in keeping him “dry” in the try column on 12 occasions, only Wales (three matches) and Fiji (one match) matched that zero figure.

The Springboks were on the winning side in three of the first four Tests featuring Lomu’s presence against them, including the unforgettable first: the final of the 1995 World Cup tournament, at which the 1.96m, 119kg specimen had really announced himself to the rugby union planet.

Directly marked by the ominously-surnamed but feisty James Small, and with the help of morale-lifting hits on him from colleagues like Joost van der Westhuizen and Japie Mulder, Francois Pienaar’s heroes stopped Lomu’s hitherto lethal form in its tracks by winning a try-less, though nailbiting showpiece 15-12 after extra time at Ellis Park.

After sampling his first triumph over the Boks a year later in Christchurch (15-11), Lomu then found himself on the wrong end of a 13-3 outcome in Wellington in 1998 – when Lomu’s rival No 11 Pieter “Slaptjips” Rossouw hogged the headlines for his devious in-field burst and touchdown to make all the difference on the day.

Gary Teichmann’s Boks went on to clinch their maiden Tri-Nations title that year, including another scoreboard setback for Lomu as South Africa edged the Durban return clash 24-23.

From then onward, Lomu began to savour triumph more and more regularly against the Springboks, as six of his last eight scraps with them ended in the All Blacks’ favour.

The Bok wing most familiar with marking him over the years was Breyton Paulse, now a SuperSport pundit: he started against the giant, in what never amounted to a “fair” physical-dimensions contest, on four occasions.

The one time Paulse tasted victory was in the third-place playoff match in Cardiff at the 1999 World Cup, when he scored a spectacular long-range try (the only one of the contest) in the Boks’ 22-18 win.

Stefan Terblanche had the one-on-one chore against Lomu three times, and others to go face-to-face with him included Deon Kayser, Thinus Delport and Chester Williams (when the last-named player was picked slightly out of familiar terrain on the SA right wing).

Lomu did score a few tries against South African franchises in a 26-try Super Rugby career spanning three teams between 1996 and 2003 (Blues, Chiefs and Hurricanes), although once again the SA teams arguably made the mistake at times of placing too much emphasis on curtailing his scoring opportunities.

For example, on a much-publicised occasion in 1998, when the then Western Stormers asked diminutive centre Robbie Fleck to police Lomu at wing at Eden Park, the human freight train failed to get on the score sheet – but it still rained 11 tries to the Blues’ credit in a 74-28 hiding for the Capetonians.

Even when he wasn’t causing mayhem himself, Lomu’s generous shadow was clearly ever-present ...

*Here are all of Lomu’s Tests against the Springboks:

June 1995, Johannesburg: SA 15 NZ 12 (World Cup final)

July 1996, Christchurch: NZ 15 SA 11

July 1998, Wellington: NZ 3 SA 13

August 1998, Durban: SA 24 NZ 23

July 1999, Dunedin: NZ 28 SA 0

August 1999, Pretoria (Lomu substitute): SA 18 NZ 34

November 1999, Cardiff: SA 22 NZ 18 (World Cup third-place playoff)

July 2000, Christchurch: NZ 25 SA 12

August 2000, Johannesburg: SA 46 NZ 40

July 2001, Cape Town: SA 3 NZ 12

August 2001, Auckland: NZ 26 SA 15

July2002, Wellington (Lomu substitute): NZ 41 SA 20

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    jonah lomu  |  rugby

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