When Jonah Lomu swept to global prominence by trampling through defenses at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it was the English who came off the worst at the hands of the giant New Zealand winger.
“He’s a freak,” England captain Will Carling said after Lomu’s monstrous, four-try display in the semi-final, “and the sooner he goes away, the better.”
Twenty years on, another powerful South Pacific winger is threatening to blow a hole in England’s defence on rugby’s biggest stage – and this one is more enormous than Lomu.
Standing at 196cm (6-foot-5) and weighing almost 128kgs, Nemani Nadolo is the hard-running, goal-kicking winger who is the pride of Fiji and the main danger to England in the tournament opener at Twickenham on Friday (Saturday 5am AEST).
Nadolo – the cousin of past and present Wallabies Lote Tuqiri and Tevita Kuridrani – has been compared to Lomu ever since his potential emerged in the Australia Under-20 side in 2008. But that was purely because of his size rather than his exploits on the rugby field.
Now a proven and prolific finisher on the Super Rugby and international stage rather than simply a battering ram, Nadolo is a fearsome opponent.
Pity the players over the next few weeks charged with stopping the biggest winger ever to play at the Rugby World Cup.
“Throughout my entire career, people have doubted me and said I was too big,” said Nadolo, who was 83kg before his 12th birthday. “I’m working hard to get into my prime. I’m not far off.”
Educated at Brisbane’s Nudgee College, one of Australia’s top rugby schools, Nadolo had inauspicious spells with the NSW Waratahs and in French and English domestic rugby, before the New Zealand-based Crusaders plucked him from Japanese team NEC Green Rockets in 2014.
He was the joint-leading try-scorer in the 2014 competition before adding nine more tries for the Crusaders this year, developing skills he previously lacked to make him much more than simply a barger.
For Fiji, he scored 13 tries in his first 15 Tests – including crossing in 10 Tests in a row. Nadolo could have represented Australia, but he is a proud Fijian, and the guy the team will rally around at the World Cup.
“For me, in a way, I look at it like I’m putting Fiji on the map,” said Nadolo, who is from Sigatoka – a town of about 10,000 people and the real powerhouse of Fiji rugby.
“Wherever I go, wherever I play, I know I’m not just carrying my family now, I’m carrying my friends, I’m carrying the country, and I love that.”
Still, more than his try-scoring, it’s his giant frame that makes Nadolo stand out more than anything. Jamie Roberts, the Wales centre and pool A rival who is regarded as one of the most physical backs in European rugby, has said it is the ultimate “man test” facing Nadolo.
The man directly opposing Nadolo on Friday will be England’s Anthony Watson, who is 32 kilos lighter.
“It will be a massive challenge,” Watson said.
Nadolo’s talents also extend to kicking goals for Fiji, probably making him the first name on the team sheet when the lineup was announced on Wednesday.
Fiji made only one change to the starting XV which ran over Canada 47-18 in London 11 days ago, with Ben Volavola picked at flyhalf over Josh Matavesi, who was in the reserves.
Volavola, unwanted by NSW Waratahs in 2015, made his Fiji debut this year, and has been signed for next year by the Crusaders.
Fiji: Metuisela Talebula, Waisea Nayacalevu, Vereniki Goneva, Gabiriele Lovobalavu, Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola, Nikola Matawalu; Sakiusa Masi Matadigo, Akapusi Qera (captain), Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Leone Nakarawa, Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, Manasa Saulo, Sunia Koto, Campese Ma’afu. Reserves: Tuapati Talemaitoga, Peni Ravai, Isei Colati, Tevita Cavubati, Peceli Yato, Nemia Kenatale, Josh Matavesi, Aseli Tikoirotuma.