Dean Richards recalls Jonah Lomu’s 1995 semi-final demolition of England
The All Blacks winger ran in four tries in a devastating display.
Dean Richards has admitted England had no idea what to expect when they ran into New Zealand’s force of nature winger Jonah Lomu in the 1995 World Cup semi-final.
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It is more than 24 years since the then 20-year-old flyer wrecked English hopes in South Africa with a devastating display as the All Blacks surged into the final with a 45-29 victory in Cape Town.
On Saturday, the two sides will meet again at the same stage of the competition in Yokohama, a fixture which will rekindle painful memories for one of the men who wore the red rose that day.
Richards played at number eight for England and witnessed the destruction at close hand.
He told the PA news agency: “We didn’t know too much about the New Zealanders, and they’d got a young lad called Jonah Lomu, who had started a little bit in the previous games, but nobody had really known about him or knew his capabilities or anything.
“He was unbelievable on the day, and I don’t think we did our due diligence in terms of looking at them closely enough and also what he had to offer.
“It wasn’t like today, where you have the games readily accessible. You didn’t have analysts. Anything you watched was something that you looked at yourself or sourced yourself, so it was very amateur in the way that we approached it.
“Yes, we may have discussed Jonah Lomu, but that was probably as much as we did do.”
At 6′ 4” and 18st 10lbs, Lomu, who sadly died at the age of 40 in 2015 after his body rejected a kidney transplant, was not a conventional winger, but England were soon to discover he was brutally effective.
Within two minutes, he had handed off winger Tony Underwood, blasted his way past centre Will Carling and literally run over full-back Mike Catt to touch down on his way to a four-try haul.
Asked about Lomu’s display, Richards said: “He didn’t really affect me because I didn’t get anywhere near him. I felt sorry for Tony Underwood, Mike Catt and those boys who could get near him.
“Had it been today, the impact wouldn’t have been as great because we’d have been prepared a little bit more for him.
“But that’s not taking anything away from Jonah because I thought he changed the way the game was played.”
New Zealand had effectively wrapped up the game long before the half-time whistle sounded with number eight Zinzan Brooke landing an outrageous long-range drop goal into the bargain.
Richards said: “After 20 minutes, the game was lost, wasn’t it? It was all about getting some sort of credibility back. We scored four tries in the end, but the game was lost well before then.
As soon as you drop off an attack or as soon as you throw a loose pass, they'll capitalise on all your errors Dean Richards
“And to rub salt into the wound, Zinzan dropped a goal from the halfway line which, as a number eight, he’s taking the p***, isn’t he?
“Fair dos, I’ve always wanted to drop a goal from the halfway line, but to do it in a World Cup semi-final as well…”
Richards, now director of rugby at Newcastle Falcons, will be an armchair viewer this time around and is willing England to do what his generation was unable to in 1995.
Asked what Eddie Jones’ team will have to do to win, he said: “Be accurate in everything they do.
“As soon as you drop off an attack or as soon as you throw a loose pass, they’ll capitalise on all your errors, they really will, and you have to stand up physically as well. You can’t take a backward step.
“England have to play and be at their best. I think they’ve picked a team that can beat the All Blacks and if they perform, then they can win.”