Nia Toliver, American Lomu making her mark
American teen impresses at Burnside academyBRENDON EGAN
Nia Toliver is the Jonah Lomu of Canterbury schoolgirl rugby.
The 16-year-old American is attending Burnside High School for the next four months, where she is involved in their international rugby academy.
She has only been in Christchurch for five weeks, but has already made a major impact in the 10-a-side game, scoring 21 tries in four games.
In a friendly with Rangi Ruru, she scored two tries in the first half as her side raced to a lopsided lead. To even things up, she was loaned to Rangi for the second half and ran in four tries against her team-mates.
On Saturdays, Toliver plays senior women's rugby for University and has been just as impressive. Playing on the wing, she has dotted down for eight tries in three games.
Toliver idolises All Blacks great Lomu and watches YouTube clips of his rampaging runs. She based her play on his power and mobility.
"He was so big, but he was quick and used to run them over," she said.
The youngster is also an exceptional sprinter, achieving a personal best of 11.85sec in the 100m sprint.
Toliver became involved in rugby four years ago after seeing older sister, Rashida play. Rashida went on a rugby tour to South Africa and Nia said the chance to see the world appealed to her.
Toliver is part of the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) rugby programme in her hometown of Los Angeles, which has grown the sport in the schools.
She went to England and France on a rugby scholarship in late March with the ICEF, which had been a wonderful experience.
Playing rugby in New Zealand this winter was the opportunity of a lifetime and would only improve her skills.
"The kind of experience I could get here, I could never get in America. The forwards run the ball a lot more out here. In America it's mainly the backs who run the ball."
Burnside High girls' coach and former Super Rugby player Ross Kennedy said he had never seen a schoolgirl player with Toliver's skill and size.
"It's the Jonah sort of scenario when they play against her. Having grown up watching Jonah, I'm in awe of Nia and some of her runs.
"I'm sure she'll go on to create her own legend."
Toliver's ambition is to represent the United States women's sevens team at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
"That's the milestone goal. It would mean all this hard work I feel like I've been doing has paid off. It would be a sign, you really can do what you put your mind and energy into."
Burnside High international rugby programme co-ordinator Mark Ealey said he had been astonished by Toliver's ability.
"Her speed and power, she's in a different league.
"She's an extreme talent. We're just trying to help her in her development towards the Olympics."