If England are to have success at the Rugby World Cup, New Zealand may well stand in their way, but thankfully without Jonah Lomu to give them nightmares.
Two editions before their famous Jonny Wilkinson-inspired 2003 victory, England were taught a lesson by rugby’s GOAT, and it will never be forgotten.
On June 18, 1995 at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, Lomu arrived on the world scene like no one had ever seen.
The then 20-year-old took on the entire England squad in the World Cup semi-final and gave men with years more experience one of the worst humblings of their careers.
New Zealand came away 45-29 winners in the semi-final, and many more seasoned players were stunned.
Lomu scored four tries during the game and was an utter juggernaut, with the only consolation for those in white being that they were far from the last to be dominated by the winger.
Lomu went on to become one of the greatest players in rugby history before his tragic death at the age of 40 in 2015, but his first breakthrough tournament still lives long in the memory.
His first try of the match saw Mike Catt crouch and brace for a tackle only to be utterly flattened in astonishing scenes.
Recalling the moment the former England star said with a grin: “As a number 15, as we all know, if a 15 has to make a tackle, that means 14 other people have missed that person to make the tackle. He’s run through 14 other blokes to get to me.
“But I remember him stumbling towards me and thinking ‘right he’s coming towards me at that angle at 18 stone, and I’m at that angle at 13 stone thinking, yeah there’s going to be a bit of a train smash here’.
“I thought to myself ‘right what did my teachers teach me? Go low, take his ankles out, drive through the tackle’.
“The next thing I remember is lying on my back and turning to the right and Jonah was putting the ball down.
“I then got up and there was [New Zealand lock] Robin Brooke tapping me on face saying ‘mate there’s a bit more of that to come’ so that was my initiation to Jonah Loma.”
Catt was dazed and confused after being dismantled by Loma, captain Will Carling said he was a freak he hoped to never have to play again, but that didn’t happen as Matt Dawson remembers.
The England legend and fan favourite took on Loma four years later in the pools, and only half joked that he’s still scarred.
“He was a rugby freak,” Dawson began. “As soon as he got the ball no one man could tackle Jonah, you had to team tackle him.
“In 1999 he was one on one with me and the odds were stacked slightly against a 13 stone 15ft 11in scrum half.
“Jonah realised the try line beckoned, and I was just a speedbump, but I wasn’t thinking about that.
“I’d focused in right on his midriff and all the training and drills and practice that you go through, you know it’s going to happen but whatever you do just be proud of that red rose on your shirt and throw yourself into it, make the best tackle you can.
“There was about 10 yards between me and Jonah, he made about six, seven, I made about two or three, and we met head on and I smashed him, bent him in two… and woke up in Middlesex hospital.”
Loma certainly made an everlasting impression on England but even more so in his home country, with fellow All Black Dan Carter explaining to talkSPORT just how incredible his impact was.
“He transformed the game,” Carter, one of the finest no.10s to ever play said ahead of the 2023 tournament.
“He’s a big part of why rugby went professional in 1996, he was just such a freak of an athlete, 120kgs and he could run 100metres in under 11 seconds, he was that fast, that big, that powerful.
“My very first professional game for Canterbury was against Wellington and Lomu came off the bench – and 20-year-old me was looking across going ‘oh no, Jonah’s coming on’.
“There was a scrum and the number nine passed the ball to Jonah who looked at me and he just ran straight at me.
“I just closed my eyes, rolled back about five metres and he went on to score a try.”
More heroes could well be born this summer in Paris, but the chances of any of them having the impact that Loma did in 1995 are almost non-existent, even 28 years on.