When the question is asked, who was rugby’s first global superstar? There is but one answer, and that is Jonah Lomu. Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 tests for the All Blacks and helped New Zealand win gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Who can forget Lomu bursting onto the scenes at the 1995 Rugby World Cup (RWC) in South Africa, children staring at their TV screens in sheer amazement at this man mountain powering down the wing with the speed of a man half his size. At this time Lomu was virtually a unknown to most outside of New Zealand, fans and opposing fans was in awe of this absolute superstar.
At his best Lomu as numerous opponents will testify to provoked his opponents to equal amounts of admiration and fear, there is no doubt Jonah Lomu was unstoppable, the giant winger was perhaps the most physically impressive specimen the world of rugby has ever seen, this was obvious from the very beginning as Lomu was an instant sensation.
Big Game Player
At World Cup 1995 in his first major tournament Lomu scored seven tries, four of which came in their semi-final win over England helping the All Blacks reach their second final, a game even to this day is still talked about in high regard solely based from his incredible performance, who can forget the moment Lomu losing his balance managed to run over a bewildered Mike Catt and powering over the try line.
Lomu proved once again that South Africa was no one off achievement, when he set alight RWC 1999, scoring eight tries taking his overall tally at the biggest tournament in Rugby to 15 tries setting a record that would seem impossible to beat, in fact a record that has since only been matched by Bryan Habana.
The facts are Jonah Lomu is the definition of a big game player, none more describes this better than scoring the game winning try against Australia in the 2000 Tri Nations giving New Zealand a 39-35 win over their rivals at the ANZ Stadium Sydney.
In the 80th minute the All Blacks found themselves losing that was until Lomu found himself in space, on the 22 metre line. He took the ball in a stationary position but such was his God-given acceleration it was irrelevant. Larkham found himself in the one place no outside half ever wants to be, as the last man covering the world’s most physically dominant player. Lomu danced around him and along the touchline for the game winning try in what has been described as one of Rugby’s greatest games.
It has been said that nobody could ever rival Muhammad Ali’s ability to elevate sport above all the restrictive barriers in place, but Lomu was not far behind. With the sizeable impacts he made in life, perhaps none left a more lasting impression than his performances at the 1995 World Cup.
The Beginning of a Legend
Lomu was born in Auckland New Zealand, but spent his early years in Tonga. Often spoken of as a gentle giant his tough upbringing in South Auckland nearly led him down a different path, but his determination to avoid a life of street violence made him a role model and inspiration to many young boys and girls of Pacific Island heritage who faced similar challenges at an early age.
Lomu started his rugby union career as a forward, usually as an openside flanker, before switching to the left wing. He represented New Zealand school boys then Lomu first came to international attention at the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens tournament as part of a team including Eric Rush.
Following on at the age of 19 years and 45 days, Lomu became the youngest All Black test player as he debuted on the wing against France in 1994, breaking a record that was previously held by Edgar Wrigley back in 1905.
Fighting Unknown Battles
During all this success unknown to the world Lomu battled against the debilitating effects of nephrotic syndrome, a serious kidney disorder in 1995 the very same year that he successfully burst into the hearts of the people, unfortunately the disease had a significant impact on his playing career and wider life. By 2003 Lomu was on dialysis and in 2004 underwent a kidney transplant. He then attempted a comeback but did not play international rugby again, and retired from professional rugby in 2007 this horrendous condition would ultimately cost Lomu his life in November 2015, aged just 40.
Man of the People
In December 1996 Lomu made his journey to South Wales and specifically Eugene Cross Park the home of Ebbw Vale Rugby Club where he took part in a charity game to raise money for St John Ambulance and Children In Need, a game that this writer had the privilege to attend as as a fan in awe.
The match had been organised former Ebbw Vale captain Kingsley Jones, who is the son of Lomu’s agent, Phil Kingsley Jones.
The game was a delight for fans who was treated to 20 tries in in total, including a 76th minute try from the man himself who crossed the line and then impressively kicked over the conversion.
Lomu’s Ebbw Vale ultimately lost the match 59-65, who was joined on the opposite wing by his brother John.
It has been six years since the tragic passing of Jonah Lomu, and he still holds a huge place in the hearts of his family, friends and fans worldwide, Jonah Lomu a legend in every sense of the word.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images
Image Credit Embed from Getty Images