Wales Online

What became of the players once tipped as the next world rugby union superstar

Wales Online logo Wales Online 18/10/2020 19:40:02 Mark Orders

The performance of New Zealander youngster Caleb Clarke has left some hailing him as the next Jonah Lomu.

Little wonder he was in tears at the end of the game.

Such a comparison can weigh heavily on a player.

Some, not all, do survive being saddled with 'next world rugby superstar' status, however.

MARK ORDERS takes a look at a few who have been landed with such a tag and assesses how they've fared.

JONAH LOMU

The one. The only. The best.

Possibly he deserves to be ranked as rugby's most influential player ever.

"The All Blacks have a new young wing called Jonah Lomu. Watch him at the World Cup next year. He's going to be special."

Those were the words of Welsh referee Robert Davies after returning from the Hong Kong Sevens in 1994. The following year Lomu rampaged all over England at the global tournament in South Africa.

There have been many imitators since, but no one has ever come close to doing what he did.

He was of his time, too, a Gulliver often running against relative Lilliputians.

Verdict: He delivered. Of course he did.

JULIAN SAVEA

He found himself touted as the next Lomu when he burst on the scene.

It was all there, after all - the power to demolish defences, the speed to take him clear on the outside, the hunger for tries.

Except, of course, when Lomu came through no one else remotely compared to what he offered physically.

Savea still performed well for New Zealand, scoring 46 tries in 54 Tests.

Along the way he acquired the nickname of The Bus.

A loss of form during the Lions year of 2017 saw him dropped from the All Blacks squad.

Verdict : For his of tries alone, he should be pleased with what he's achieved.

JONNY WILKINSON

"Ten years after I've retired, when people are sitting around the pub discussing their dream XV of all time or whatever, I want to be in there. Or at least, if not in the final line-up, I want to be in the deliberations."

So said Jonny Wilkinson at the age of 22.

He had already made his mark, debuting for England at 18 and being tipped for a golden career.

His World Cup-winning drop goal continues to resonate over the border but Wilkinson offered so much more, as a wonderful goal-kicker and possibly the greatest tackling No. 10 of all.

Winning the World Cup at 24 left him with the problem of how he could top such a feat. Injuries conspired cruelly against him.

Would he feature in deliberations about an all-time World XV?

He'd be mentioned by some.

At his peak he was a player whose name opponents didn't want to see on a team-sheet.

Verdict: Injuries hit him hard and it's debatable whether he had an elite attacking game, but he left an indelible mark.

JUAN MARTIN-HERNANDEZ

Has he ever been as good as pundits claim?

That was the question once posed by one online poster.

It's not an easy one to answer, but it's worth pointing out that his sobriquet left him with a lot to live up to. He was known as The Magician and when he failed to pull white furry things from hats some people felt short changed and weren't slow to let the world know it.

Argentina had their moments on his watch, notably when they reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2007, and he excelled at times for Stade Francais.

Verdict: In the mood, he could live up to his billing. But some doubted his consistency.

GAVIN HENSON

World Rugby's young player of the year in 2001, he won two Grand Slams and gave Wales something precious that they'd been lacking for so long - on-pitch confidence.

It helped unlock a first clean sweep in 27 years.

When he played for Swansea, not long after he'd broken into the side he received a high pass, pirouetted and fired over a drop-kick from close on 45 metres. "I said to myself 'Naas Botha,' the then Whites coach John Plumtree said at the time, comparing Henson with the legendary Springbok.

Henson had a wonderful kicking game, improved his defence as the years went by and could glide past opponents.

Like Wilkinson, he also had the misfortune to suffer from multiple injuries.

Unlike Wilkinson, his focus on rugby seemed to drift at the mid-point of his career.

But at his peak he was a class act.

Verdict: Star quality, without a doubt, but his best days were over too quickly.

JOE ROKOCOKO

He's another one who was hailed as the new Jonah Lomu.

The difference was, of course, that Rokocoko preferred to bewilder with sleight of hand - recall his wonderful half dummy en route to a try against Wales in 2004 - a step and evasive skills, whereas Lomu more often than not took route one.

Forty-six tries in 66 Tests isn't a shabby strike-rate, though.

Verdict : Played his last Test at 27, so left us all wanting a bit more, really.

BRIAN O'DRISCOLL

Before O'Driscoll played for Ireland U21s against Wales U21s at Caerphilly in 1999 there were whispers that the visitors were harbouring a special player.

But BO'D was quiet that day, leaving the locals at Virginia Park perhaps wondering what all the fuss had been about.

The best advice for all concerned would have been to avoid snap judgements, for barely a year late the same player was running in a hat-trick of tries for the Ireland senior team against France in Paris.

He went on to become an all-time world rugby great.

Verdict: A superstar? Absolutely.

LESLEY VAINIKOLO

"He is a superstar in league and I hold every confidence he can translate that across into union." Then Gloucester director of rugby Dean Ryan was speaking after Vainokolo's decision to cross codes and pitch up at Kingsholm.

Vainikolo even arrived with a nickname, namely the Volcano.

He looked quite the part, too, early doors, using his power to bulldoze through opposition defences.

But after Martin Johnson took over as England coach the new boy's star began to wane, his Test career in union ending after just five caps.

Verdict: Didn't hit the heights.

GEORGE NORTH

It's easy to forget that North was once up there with those who've had the misfortune to be compared with Lomu.

To his credit back in 2011, and despite making a significant mark on that year's World Cup, he didn't totally buy the idea.

"To be compared to Jonah is a massive honour," he said.

"To me personally, I don't think I've done enough to deserve that yet."

His deeds the Lions tour of 2013 will never be forgotten and he is still going, with 98 caps in the bag all told and 42 tries.

Consistency has been a problem along with injuries.

But on his game he's still a handful.

Verdict : The big Welshman may not be a superstar in the eyes of everyone, but he's a player who can hold his own in pretty much any company on a good day.

SCHALK BURGER

He was in a South Africa U21s XV that beat Wales U21s 52-21 in 2003.

Burger simply had a marvellous tournament, bringing huge physicality to proceedings.

"I was fortunate enough to coach Wales at five tournaments and I would have to say that Burger stood out head and shoulders as the best player I've seen at that age," said former Wales Under 21 coach Chris Davey.

The South African went on to have a stellar Test career at senior level, proving himself one of the toughest of the tough.

Verdict: He delivered.

SONNY BILL WILLIAMS

He's had a book written about him called The Story of Rugby's New Superstar, so you have some idea of where this one is going.

Youngsters still try to copy his offloading game which comes with speed and power.

He's played in two World Cup-winning sides and while he has sometimes seemed a restless soul, dabbling in other sports, he's still left a huge imprint on union.

Verdict: Has largely done what it says on the tin.

18. lokakuuta 2020 22:40:02 Categories: Wales Online

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