Legend Lomu makes big impression on children

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am

Luan Xin, a 12-year-old from Qingdao, wants to become 'big, strong and famous' like All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu and dreams of playing at the Olympics.

Shao Ni, a wisp of a girl, had no idea who Lomu was until she met him yesterday, but she too has visions of scoring the winning try to give China the Olympic gold medal.

Both Luan and Shao were among a group of children from the Qingdao Sharks RFC who are in town as part of the HSBC Asian Rugby Football Union coaching tour aimed at spreading the message across the region.

While Lomu, a special guest of the bank, was flown in for just one day, another ex-All Black winger, John Kirwan, took time off from his duties as coach of World Cup-bound Japan to fulfil his role as a rugby ambassador.

'China is the new frontier for rugby and now that sevens is in the Olympics, it will just grow the game faster. But the funny thing is, I feel the girls will pick things up faster,' Lomu said.

Shao, who hadn't a clue who Lomu was, has been playing the game for just over a year. Her verdict was: 'It is very enjoyable'.

Like the rest of her teammates, she will go back with memories of how she met two famous players and hopefully some tips on how to improve her game.

'What we try to do in the brief moments we have with them is to try to instil in them the 'fun' in the fundamentals of the game,' Kirwan said. 'As well as developing existing young players across the continent, the tour will focus on introducing rugby to children who may otherwise not have seen or played the game. Taking the sport to new audiences and enabling and inspiring more children to play the game will be a huge marker of success for me,' he said.

Lomu, meanwhile, limbered up with some kung fu stretches with Luan and his friends before taking them through a couple of drills.

'I was watching a couple of these kids and they were a lot more advanced than I expected them to be,' Lomu said.

'I did a couple of fundamental drills like sidestepping and these guys have got it. They are a bit raw but they have pace and speed. It just depends on how they develop,'

The coaching clinic will stop over in more than 10 cities in Asia during this season's HSBC Asian Five Nations and the hope is a little bit of the star power in the form of the Lomus and the Kirwans will rub off on children from Colombo and Goa to Almaty and Shanghai.

But man-mountain Lomu gave the campaign a real kickstart yesterday.

'He is big. He easily lifted two of us and it was no problem,' said an awestruck Luan. 'I want to be like him and one day play for China.'