x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Lomu excited by his protege

The New Zealand rugby legend believes Victor Vito will make his mark in this weekend's World Cup Sevens tournament.

Jonah Lomu, the New Zealand rugby legend, was at Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai yesterday.
Jonah Lomu, the New Zealand rugby legend, was at Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // While the city's rugby supporters will get the chance to see if the hype surrounding the new Jonah Lomu is justified this weekend, the old one will also be casting a keen eye over his former domain. Lomu is back in Dubai, where he made his first overseas trip aged 15 as part of an invitational touring side from New Zealand, ahead of this weekend's World Cup Sevens.

His return coincides with a recall to the New Zealand sevens set-up for Victor Vito, the man whose rampaging run of form last season earned him comparisons with his fellow Wellingtonian. Is all the ballyhoo accurate? "I don't know," said Lomu. "He played well last year, he has made a Super 14 team this year, so I hope the guy plays well. "But Jonah is Jonah, and Victor Vito is Victor Vito. He will bring his own flavour and he has got some class on him.

"At the same time, he hasn't played sevens for a little while. If he can bring the goods that we believe he has, he could be a star at this tournament. "I have known him since he was still playing college rugby. The guy is here to play rugby, and I don't think he needs any added pressure. He just needs to play what Victor Vito plays, his own style of rugby." In the midst of a purple patch in last year's IRB World Series, Vito's playing style was repeatedly compared with that of the All Black great.

After bulldozing his way through for two tries in the final of last year's Wellington Sevens, the similarity was directly addressed by the man who first launched the rugby icon onto the world stage, the New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens. "Wasn't it reminiscent of a Lomu out there when he scored that first try?" Tietjens said at the time. "As soon as Victor Vito scored that try I said to someone, 'Super 14, on his way'. That was the first thing that went into my mind."

The coach was right. Vito has since graduated to the Hurricanes franchise of his native Wellington, yet answered Tietjens' request to make a one-off guest appearance at the World Cup. It could be a well timed injection of impetus, as well as a reminder of the good times during their record-breaking run to the series title last year, for the New Zealanders. They have been hit by a string of injuries in recent times and, four legs into the new season, are still without a tournament win.

Despite the fallow run, confidence remains high that they can reclaim the Melrose Cup, especially with the return of Vito and the reigning world sevens player of the year, DJ Forbes, who has been injured. Lomu is sure his former master can work his magic again this weekend. "That is the thing about Gordon, he can always bring the team back," added Lomu, who was signing adidas apparel for young fans at the adidas store in Ibn Battuta Mall yesterday.

"I have faith in him, and believe the team can do it. But there are some good teams out there this year. They have grown over the past 10 years, and the minnow teams have got a lot stronger." pradley@thenational.ae