'Jonah Lomu will live on in our cherished memories' - Doug Howlett leads tributes to legend
Published 18/11/2015 | 17:57
Doug Howlett has paid an emotional tribute to his late team mate Jonah Lomu.
The retired New Zealand wing's passing at the age of just 40 was announced in the early hours of Wednesday morning, leaving fans across the globe shocked.
Lomu, who scored 37 tries in 63 Test matches, had suffered from health problems since his retirement from the game in 2002 due to a rare kidney disease. He died after suddenly collapsing just hours after returning from a trip to Dubai.
The Auckland-born former Cardiff Blue is best remembered for his impact on the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when having gone into the tournament with only two caps to his name he scored seven tries, including four in a devastating semi-final display against England.
His former New Zealand team mate Doug Howlett praised Lomu for his 'huge humility' and for teaching him how to become an All Black.
"We knew he was never going to live a long life but it was still such a shock to wake up to the news this morning, a big shock," Howlett told munsterrugby.ie.
"I only spoke to him by phone during the World Cup and even then it was like we were still playing together, talking about the old times, what he was up to, and our families.
"I am hugely saddened by the news but so thankful for the time I got to spend with him.
"He was the guy in the All Blacks that always looked out for new members. He was the first true global rugby superstar, but the fact is, within the squad environment he was just one of the lads.
"If anybody could lose their head you would almost allow him to because of his stature in the game but he never did that, it was always team first and these are the things you remember and that you pass on.
"Spending time with a guy like that, they teach you how to be an All Black. I came in to that environment, where he had huge humility and at the same time was a wonderful player and a respected team-mate.
"As a young Polynesian boy he was a shining light to all Polynesian players in New Zealand and on the islands - "Hey I can do it too!" - and you see a string of the players now saying it openly that it was him that turned them to rugby, not only in New Zealand, but globally.
"Until the day of his passing he was at the World Cup still promoting the game, talking about his memories and the moments he created in everybody's memory, they are there for everybody to see and are marked in history.
"The moments I cherish are being welcomed into an environment as a young guy, and to play alongside, to train with, a group that included Jonah, Tana Umaga, Jeff Wilson and Christian Cullen, all giants of the game at the time but everything was shared and they wanted to make you a better player.
"Through Jonah these memories and these learnings will live on through me and I pass them on through my Munster time and to players coming through. No doubt his memory is going to live on. He lives through his teachings to me and he will live on through my teachings to others, to my son, and to other Munster players. That is something he would be extremely proud of.
"When you look at the last few months with Jonah and Jerry Collins, they are the two guys on your team that are indestructible, that will run through a brick wall and not think anything of it. Losing both has been hard and it makes you think about your own position and life in general.
"It's a sad, sad day, however, Jonah Lomu will live on with us and I will cherish the memories and the time I got to spend with him."
Former New Zealand captain Fitzpatrick told Sky Sports News: "He was the first global superstar. Everyone wanted to be Jonah Lomu.
"The way the game changed was because of the way he played. He will go down as one of the greatest."
England attack coach Mike Catt was the man Lomu famously trampled over during his semi-final blitz but he paid his own heartfelt tribute.
"I'm massively sad but the legacy he's left is incredible," Catt told englandrugby.com. "He's inspired millions of people around the world to watch the sport and start playing. He changed rugby union during the 1995 World Cup.
"His ability to move 18 stone was amazing. He didn't want to run through people every time, but he did have that ability and his footwork and speed off the mark was second to none, you just couldn't get near the guy. But if he needed to run through four of you he could."
Lomu was first spotted by New Zealand's schoolboy selectors whilst playing as a back-row forward for Wesley College in his native Auckland but was put on the path to stardom when he switched position to the wing.
He played for several domestic teams in his homeland - Auckland Blues, Chiefs and Hurricanes, North Harbour, Counties Manukau and Wellington - and also had a stint in Wales with the Blues, for whom he played 10 matches.
He retired from the game in 2007, the year he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He also joined the IRB Hall of Fame four years later.
Zinzan Brooke, another of Lomu's one-time All Blacks colleagues, told BBC Radio 5 live: "He could have played in any position he wanted to on the field. It was [former All Blacks coach] Laurie Mains who decided to play him on the wing.
"It's amazing what he did in that '95 World Cup. He launched himself on the international scene and changed the way the game was played in an instant.
"He was very calm but you knew you had a force within the team. He was phenomenal.
"When you think of the World Cup you will always go back to Jonah running round or over opponents. You'll always remember the superstar that was Jonah Lomu.
"I'm still in shock now realising a great friend has gone."
Former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew, who also acted as a personal doctor to Lomu, insisted his former patient was in "pretty good shape" prior to his death.
Mayhew told TVNZ's One News: "Jonah has been in pretty good shape, he arrived back from Dubai yesterday and unfortunately suddenly collapsed and died at home this morning.
"He has been a fantastic person and a great friend, I have been his doctor for a long time. It's staggering, a very sad day."
New Zealand prime minister John Key was also among those paying tribute to Lomu, who was in the United Kingdom to see his compatriots lift the World Cup last month.
Key tweeted: "Deeply saddened to hear of Jonah Lomu's unexpected passing this morning. The thoughts of the entire country are with his family."
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "Today rugby has lost one of its true greats. Not just one of the finest players ever to play the game, but a gentleman, a role model and an icon.
"Jonah's contribution to rugby cannot be overstated. He was the first superstar player and, through his sheer brilliance and love of the game, he brought much joy to the rugby family and took our sport to a new level of profile. He burst onto the scene with an energy, passion and intensity, the likes of which had never before been witnessed.
"Jonah will be remembered as a pioneering player, a gentleman and a great friend to the sport he loved. Our thoughts are with his family and the entire New Zealand rugby community at this sad time."