Rugby-Lomu tears a strip off England's 'All Black imitators'

Reuters

Tue, 26 Jul 11:24:00 2011

England's decision to wear a controversial black strip during the upcoming World Cup has left New Zealand great Jonah Lomu "dumbfounded" with the former winger questioning the motives of the decision in an interview with Reuters.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) released a statement on Friday saying the England team would wear the new second strip for the home international against Wales on Aug. 6 and then for their opening World Cup match against Argentina on Sept. 10.

The move has been met with derision in New Zealand, who will host the Sept. 9-Oct. 23 tournament, and the hulking 1.96m former All Black winger has also thrown his considerable weight behind those questioning England's plans.

"I find it really weird," a puzzled Lomu explained to Reuters in an interview on Tuesday beside a rooftop swimming pool overlooking the city-state's stunning skyline.

"When I saw the picture, I was just saying, 'one thing is for sure, the All Blacks are the original and anybody who is after the original is an imitator.'

"England don't need to do that, they don't need to wear it. They are synonymous with wearing white... we have always known them in the white shirt and its a huge step in a different direction from the history they have had."

Lomu, speaking with business leaders in Singapore as part of his role as World Cup ambassador, showed a surprising amount of concern for the white shirt of England, considering how he used to barge through all who wore it during his playing days.

In the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Lomu, aged just 20, became a global icon after famously running over England back Mike Catt en route to scoring four tries in a comfortable quarter-final victory that led to defeated captain Will Carling describing the All Black as a freak.

"I have always loved playing England when they are wearing their white shirts and I pride myself on playing against them and I made my name playing against them in that white shirt.

"To see that go in a completely opposite way, I'm dumbfounded," the 36-year-old Lomu explained.

TOSS UP

"When you talk about England (they) show us what tradition is all about in rugby but also New Zealanders pride themselves on their tradition.

"We (New Zealand) have had big sports brand companies... who have come on board but...(the shirt is) not hugely branded, they haven't changed anything apart from keeping rich to the history and by bringing different technologies to the shirt where this is in a completely different direction."

On Friday, an RFU spokesman said the New Zealand Rugby Union had no issues with the side's choice of kit but when asked about the possibility of his country playing a World Cup final against a black-shirted England, Lomu burst out laughing.

"It could be a toss up for who wears what shirt," he said.

England have also attracted negative headlines after manager Martin Johnson named 13 overseas-born players in his 45-man pre-World Cup squad.

However, the prospect of South African and Pacific Island accents singing the English national anthem ahead of World Cup matches does not bother Lomu as much as their shirt colour.

"This is what professional rugby is and at the same time these players have got an opportunity and have taken it," Lomu sympathised.

"Everybody can complain but it is within the rules. We can't do anything about it. It's part and parcel of the rules and you can keep complaining about it, but it is going to fall on deaf ears."

Lomu's acceptance of England's move is probably born of his belief that should New Zealand play to their abilities, nobody will stop them winning a second World Cup title.

"For me, it's a World Cup for the All Blacks to lose," he said with a smile.

(Edited by John O'Brien; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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