Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 22 News List

RBS NATIONS: 'Volcano' eager to take on Welsh

ENGLAND EXPECTS Lesley Vainikolo's massive physical presence and try-scoring abilities have led to comparisons with legendary All Black Jonah Lomu


Lesley Vainikolo takes part in an England training session at Bath University in south-west England on Tuesday.


England new boy Lesley Vainikolo can't wait for the talking to stop and tomorrow's Six Nations opener against Wales to kick off.

The Tonga-born former New Zealand rugby league wing will be on the bench for the match at Twickenham, having scored nine tries in 10 games for Gloucester during his first season in the 15-man code.

England coach Brian Ashton has wasted little time in bringing Vainikolo, qualified for his adopted country on residency grounds, following several seasons with Bradford Bulls rugby league club, where he scored an astonishing 149 tries in 152 matches, into the World Cup finalists' fold.

And to those who questioned whether Vainikolo ought to be playing for England at all, the wing's answer was as emphatic as any of his surging runs.

"I feel like I am at home. I am in England and I play in England," he told reporters at the squad's Bath University training base.

The 28-year-old has endured an emotionally grueling time off the field following the deaths of both his father and his brother in New Zealand either side of Christmas.

"All I think about is my mum at home," he said. "She lost a lover and a son, and another son is on the other side of the world, which makes it hard for her. All my tears and prayers go out to her."

At 1.87m and 114kg Vainikolo, nicknamed the "Volcano," is ideally suited to the role he has been given this weekend of an "impact" substitute.

Vainikolo's physical stature and try-scoring ability has led to comparisons with All Black powerhouse wing Jonah Lomu but the England recruit insisted he was his own man.

"I don't compare myself to anyone, really. I am me, I'm Lesley. I want people to start knowing me," he said.

"I never like talking. For me, it is about getting out there and doing the job. It's my first Test match on Saturday, I am still learning, and you learn new things every day. I love it," Vainikolo said.

If Vainikolo does get on against Wales he could find himself up against Shane Williams.

In an age of increasingly big wings, the Neath-Swansea Ospreys' flyer has been ploughing an increasingly lone furrow for the slightly built speedster.

Williams is well aware of the challenge coming his way from a man who weighs nearly 32kg more than he does but stressed being physically out-matched was nothing new in his career.

"It's David versus Goliath," he said. "I don't think he's going to bother trying to run around me but I've played against the big wingers all my life."

"With my physique, that's going to happen anyway. They are all pretty much monsters for me," he said.

"I've played against some big lads, the likes of Aurelien Rougerie and Alesana Tuilagi. I tend to find it easier playing against the bigger man, to be honest," Williams said. "I've just got to find methods to deal with the bigger lads. I'll have to go low or he could be chucking me into the stands I imagine."

Williams, one of a record 13 Ospreys in Wales's starting line-up, missed the chance to face Vainikolo earlier in the season in a European Cup tie, something not lost on his team-mates.

"When we played Gloucester away in the Heineken Cup, I missed the game through injury. The lads seemed to think I pulled out of that one, but, believe me, that wasn't the case!" he said.

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