Jonah Lomu or Julian Savea, Which All Black Wing Is Better?

Jeff Cheshire@@jeff_cheshireAnalyst IIOctober 3, 2014

UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 10:  All Black Jonah Lomu forces past England's Dan Luger in the Rugby World Cup pool match at Twickenham, Saturday. The All Blacks won 3016.  (Photo by Ross Setford/Getty Images)
Ross Setford/Getty Images

As an up-and-comer in New Zealand rugby, Julian Savea had been billed as the second-coming of Jonah Lomu. Like Lomu, Savea is a big, fast, strong running winger, who caught the public's imagination at a young age.

In reality it is hard to compare players from different eras. The game has just changed so much. But that does not stop us from trying. 

Current All Black coach, Steve Hansen, is the latest to make such a comparison, suggesting that Savea is a better player than the man many compared him to, as was reported by The New Zealand Herald. That is a big statement, but he does offer an explanation:

"I think he's probably better," Hansen remarked. "He can do more things than Jonah. Jonah was a great player but I think Julian has got more to his game than Jonah."

Steve Hansen believes Julian Savea is better than Jonah Lomu.
Steve Hansen believes Julian Savea is better than Jonah Lomu.Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

He is probably right in that Savea certainly does have more to his game. Initially a liability under the high ball, he has improved immeasurably and is now safe taking kicks sent his way. His kicking game is developing too.

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You would not call him a "kicker" as such, but he has a boot good enough to exploit space in behind when it is there, as well as toe through grubbers and chips. Additionally he has good hands and anticipatory skills that make him dangerous chasing attacking kicks.

But does this make him better than Lomu?

There is no doubting the threat Savea poses with ball in hand. Big, fast and strong, he is a player that attracts attention from opposition defences who struggle to contain him.

He is more than a one-trick pony though, having the ability to capitalise in space, as well as coming into the line to be a threat in the midfield. His ability to ensure he is always in the game was something Lomu never quite had either.

Yet as far as posing a threat to defences, Lomu is still king. At the top of his game, he was as dominant as anyone has been, ever.

He could fend you off, he could go around you, he could go straight over the top of you. The man was a beast.

For all of his flaws and the criticism he received during his career, there has never been another player you could just give the ball to and say "go score a try." When this did not work, it was usually because the defence was so heavily committed to him.

People often cite the fact that he never scored a try against South Africa as a limitation of his.

Perhaps they are right. But if anything, it was the South Africans that showed just why Lomu was so important to the teams he was on.

At times it seemed to almost become an obsession for them. They would often stack their defence towards the All Black left wing, sometimes having three or four players in covering range of the big man. This opened up space elsewhere and it was almost ridiculous the amount of room they allowed the likes of Jeff Wilson and Christian Cullen at times.

This was the true value of Lomu: a player who could dictate a game simply by being on the field. He did not have to touch the ball, or even be near the action, to help create a try.

To have a player with that ability on your team is handy to say the least.

It was his feats at the 1995 Rugby World Cup that created the Lomu legend. As a 19-year-old, he debuted for the All Blacks in 1994. From this he became the youngest ever All Black, a record he still holds.

However, he did not fire in this series. So it was as an unknown that he embarked upon the World Cup the next year.

What followed was the most astronomical rise to superstardom rugby, perhaps even sport, as ever seen.

He swatted his opponents off like flies en-route to scoring seven tries and setting up a handful of others. His semifinal performance against England remains his most famous, as he bagged four tries and utterly destroyed what had been considered a tough opponent.

Four years later he was equally impressive, bagging eight tries, this time as the most heavily marked man in world rugby. He was one of few All Blacks to finish the upset semifinal loss to France with his reputation intact, having run all over them to score two tries and put the All Blacks in a commanding position.

Despite his dominance, he could have been so much more. He played his entire career with a crippling kidney disease, which eventually forced him into retirement prior to the 2003 World Cup.

It was a condition that prevented him playing at the peak of his powers on a consistent basis. In fact, other than the two World Cup's, the true Jonah was rarely seen. He was still a beast, but nothing like the player he could be.

He was criticised heavily for this inconsistency. Although it was not until later that we all realised just how sick Lomu was. To be fair, you have to place greater weighting on his World Cup form, as this was when he was aiming to peak for.

As his All Blacks Hall of Fame induction video says, 20 of his 37 test tries came in either 1995 or at the 1999 World Cup, contrasting his two best seasons with the rest. His 15 World Cup tries remains a record, placing him well in front of some illustrious names who played more World Cup games.

It is easy to reminisce about Lomu's career through rose-tinted glasses, though. If Lomu is only going to be judged at his best, perhaps Savea should receive the same treatment.

But has Savea peaked yet? He is only 24 and still has a lot of rugby left in him. That said, Lomu played his best rugby at the age of 20 and had his last dominant season as a 24-year-old.

Savea has yet to strike fear into opponents the way Lomu did. He is very good yes, a powerful runner and a reliable finisher, scoring 27 tries in 27 tests. But he has not yet destroyed a team the way Lomu would, to the point where the game plan became "Operation: Shut-down Jonah." 

You can use the argument, as Hansen did, that Savea has more strings to his bow: better going backwards, more skilful, more involved in the game. But in terms of sheer athleticism, Lomu is still the best and it is not even close.

Who you think is better really comes down to what you are looking for in a player. Or even just how much better you think one was than the other in a certain area.

It is hard comparing players between different eras. It was a far more open game in Lomu's day. The defences were less-organised and wingers saw fewer high balls come their way. But you can only judge him on how good he was in his own era. He could have adapted to a different type of game if he needed to.

The best way to think of it is: Who would you rather have on your team? If this is the case, give me Lomu any day of the week. Savea may get there, but for now, Lomu's raw talent is something that Savea, or anybody else, just cannot match.

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