'The game is going to be more accessible and more open to Asia'
All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu has thrown his weight behind Japan hosting the 2011 World Cup. The giant winger, who underwent a kidney transplant 14 months ago, said the game would benefit worldwide if the International Rugby Board (IRB) were to award Japan the 15-a-side showpiece.
'If the World Cup came to Japan, it is going to grow the global game. Everyone always talks about the best things in terms of growing the game and in this regard, I think it is time for the World Cup to come to Japan and Asia,' Lomu told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview yesterday.
It might sound like heresy to his countrymen with New Zealand also in contention to host the 2011 tournament - the third country in the running is South Africa. But Lomu, who was on a brief visit to Hong Kong, was looking at the bigger picture.
'New Zealand is also pushing for it and it will be a big ask for Japan. But everybody is on a level playing field. If it came to Japan, it would be the first time the World Cup will be played in Asia. It is outside the norm but Japan has got enough rugby players and Japan has got the stadiums to do it.
'If Japan wins it, rugby will just get bigger. The game is going to be more accessible to everyone and more open to Asia. A World Cup in Japan will show that rugby is truly a global game,' Lomu said.
The IRB will decide in November between the three contenders. If Japan is awarded the World Cup there is a slender hope that Hong Kong might get to host a couple of matches. A fit-looking Lomu was in town as a keynote speaker at the ongoing regional marketing meeting for Adidas. On a comeback quest after a successful kidney transplant last July, Lomu said he still harboured hopes of playing for the All Blacks and was being motivated by his sponsor's 'Impossible is Nothing' motto.
'The 2007 World Cup in France is my 'impossible' mission. I still have hopes of playing for the All Blacks again. That is my goal. Coming to Hong Kong has given me an opportunity to tell people about my 'impossible is nothing' story.
'When I was here last time [March 2004] I was not able to run properly and I had a surgeon back home telling me I would not play again because I could not run. Now he has had to eat his words,' said Lomu, who played in Martin Johnson's testimonial at Twickenham in June. He scored a first-half try but injured his shoulder in the process.
Lomu played 63 tests for the All Blacks including two World Cups (1995 and 1999) before his career was cut short after being diagnosed for nephrotic syndrome. In 2003, he was put on dialysis three times a week and was told he faced life in a wheelchair if he didn't get a kidney transplant.
At 30, time might be running short for Lomu, especially with top wingers Joe Rokocoko and Doug Howlett providing stiff opposition.
To achieve this dream, Lomu is looking at playing 'First Division' rugby in England this season. 'My shoulder's feeling good after surgery but I have not been able to play for North Harbour because of it. The season in New Zealand will end soon and I'm looking for regular rugby in the off-season. We are talking to a couple of English clubs and that decision won't be made until I get back home,' said Lomu.