Tackling All Blacks best way for Porter to discard Lions baggage

Ireland loosehead recalls ‘awestruck’ meeting with New Zealand great Lomu in 2001

Andrew Porter still has the photograph, two small boys smiling shyly alongside the gargantuan figure of New Zealand rugby legend, the late Jonah Lomu. It is his first memory of the All Blacks, dating back to 2001.

He was just five years old when his uncle brought him and his cousin to the Dublin hotel where the New Zealand team was staying ahead of a Test match against Warren Gatland's Ireland, a game the visitors would go on to win 40-29 with Lomu a tryscorer.

Although a child Porter recognised the gargantuan figure. He explained: "Yeah, I'd only really heard of him through that PlayStation 1 game, Jonah Lomu Rugby. I can't remember what year it came out [1997], but I remember playing that in my cousin's house.

“My dad [Ernie] lived in New Zealand when he was younger so I remember him telling me about Jonah Lomu, showing me videos when I was younger. His style was kind of unmatched in his era; it was nice watching him run over people, not so nice watching him against the Irish players.”


He couldn’t remember if he exchanged any words with Lomu but suspected he didn’t. “I think we just posed for a photo. I was so awestruck, I’m [sure I] couldn’t get many words out. I was so excited. It’s great having those memories [as] a young kid growing up, looking up at the stars, your heroes.”

Porter admitted that it is slightly surreal looking back on that memory and the journey he’s undertaken since, having crossed paths with New Zealand teams in the 2016 Under-20 tournament and then playing a cameo role off the bench in Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium in 2018. The only time he’s been on the losing side was in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final clash.

He explained: “Thinking back to 2018 it seems like a long time ago now but honestly I can remember everything about that day. I didn’t get long on the pitch but I had people coming up to me even up to a couple of weeks ago asking me ‘what did it feel like, what was the atmosphere in the stadium like?’

“It was a special day not just for us as a team but everyone who knows you, my family and the wider playing group as well. It is hugely exciting not just for us as a team but for us as a country.” He’d dearly love to experience that feeling again today.

He was cruelly denied a place on the Lions tour to South Africa in the summer when suffering an injury while playing for Leinster against Glasgow Warriors, something that he admitted took him a while to come to terms with.

“To be honest I had some really, really bad days after that injury. At the time it is easy to get caught up in your emotions and your feelings. It meant so much to me when my name [was] read out. That being taken away was tough, gut-wrenching stuff. I am nearly getting emotional thinking about it now.

“I put in a lot of work that time I was injured, especially over the summer. I got my weight down. I feel really good around the pitch because of that. I have come out stronger. At the time I had a lot of people around me, supporting me, people fighting my corner; my family and my girlfriend and obviously coaches and team-mates reaching out to me, helping me along the way when I was injured. It puts things into perspective how people are around you when the chips are down.

“I feel for me when I am not working I get very distracted, caught up in my emotions. Getting back to training and the normal swing of things over the summer was the best way for me to deal with that [disappointment]; get my head straight. [It helped me] put things in perspective.”

A lighter, faster loosehead maybe he can prime himself for a few “Lomu-like” carries this afternoon.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer