Brian O'Driscoll recalls story of Irish attempts to stop rampaging Jonah Lomu at 95 World Cup
Brian O'Driscoll has told of his shock at the passing of All Black legend Jonah Lomu and recalled the memorable occasions when Ireland faced the sporting star during his playing career.
Lomu passed away at the age of 40 on Wednesday morning after a long battle with a rare kidney disease and former All Blacks team doctor John Mayhew has confirmed that the rugby legend died of a heart attack at his home in Auckland.
Lomu suffered from health problems since his retirement from the game in 2002. A kidney transplant in 2004 fixed him for seven and a half years but his body rejected it in 2011, but his death has been described as "unexpected".
O'Driscoll has credited Lomu with transforming the game of rugby and admitted that the New Zealander was simply unstoppable at the height of his playing powers and recalled the daunting task of facing the giant winger in memorable clash in 2001.
The home side unexpectedly led the All Blacks 21-7 in the second half, but a comeback led by Lomu ensured the visitors avoided a first-ever defeat to Ireland.
"I remember in that game being left one-on-one with him," he said. "There was inevitability about what was going to happen. I was only five or six yards out from the line and I knew that I was only going to be a road bump. Someone else was going to have to come in and finish the job off.
"Once they got the ball into Jonah's hands, against someone that was five foot 10, simple physics would tell you there is only going to be one winner.
"He ran over the top of me and scored a try and that was part of their comeback.
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"Realistically, he was the first real superstar," he told Today FM's The Anton Savage Show. "It is only in recent years you see the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter really fit into that mould, but still not touching on the status of him.
"He was really unique changed the perception of what was expected as a winger. He was unstoppable."
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Lomu made his All Blacks debut in 1994, but burst onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup where he steamrolled defenders on his way to claiming seven tries at the tournament, including two against Ireland.
O'Driscoll also told a story from that 43-19 defeat at Ellis Park, Johannesburg that illustrated the esteem he was held in by opponents.
"I remember hearing a story of when Ireland were playing against New Zealand and he went on one of those runs. Gary Halpin ran past Nick Popplewell and Poppy said to him, 'Where are you going Gaz?'.
"'I have to go tackle him,' he said. 'Be careful, if you get there too early you might have to actually tackle him.'"
O'Driscoll is convinced that the Kiwi transformed the game of rugby by becoming the first global star of the professional game.
"Realistically, he was the first real superstar. It is only in recent years you see the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter really fit into that mould, but still not touching on the status of him.
"He was really unique changed the perception of what was expected as a winger. He was unstoppable.
"He was a freak of a rugby player, but an absolute gentleman off the pitch. He's someone that you would love your kids to look up to, a real superstar of the game that had all the qualities you would hope to aspire to in a hero."
Keith Wood admitted that he is "heartbroken" by the news and praised the fighting ability of Lomu in light of his long battle with illness.
“Almost heartbroken actually is the phrase that comes into it,” Wood told Newstalk this morning. “I knew Jonah pretty well. I played against him a couple of times, got to meet him a lot over the years. Sat on the bench in that game in 95 when he steam-rolled Ireland long before he stream-rolled England.
“It’s just awful news. 40 years of age. He’s been fighting manfully the kidney complaint for 13 or 14 years and it’s been very, very tough for him. Absolutely gutted I have to say, a lovely guy. I’d been in contact with him over the World Cup and it’s too sad and too soon.”
Many of the sport's big names took to social media to pay tribute to someone who was in the United Kingdom for the recent Rugby World Cup, which was won by the All Blacks.
Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick took to Twitter to say: "Our thoughts are with the @JONAHTALILOMU family tonight. A very special person. @AllBlacks."
"Really awful news to wake up to this morning. Jonah was rugby's first real superstar. Thoughts are with his family," Brian O'Driscoll posted on his Twitter account.
Dan Carter, the recently crowned World Rugby Player of the Year after playing a key role in New Zealand's second successive World Cup triumph, had a touching message on his social media account.
"I still can't believe the sad news. Love & thoughts go out to Jonah's family," he wrote.
"Would of done anything to have played a test with him. Gone way too soon my brother."
And former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies said: "Can't believe that Jonah Lomu has passed away. Was with him and his wife and family for an evening last month. So sad, life is so cruel.
"RIP Jonah you were a true legend and a gentleman. You changed the game of rugby and will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with your family."
Here is more Twitter reaction to the news of the death of one of rugby union's greats:
"Deeply saddened to hear of Jonah Lomu's unexpected passing this morning. The thoughts of the entire country are with his family" - New Zealand prime minister John Key.
"Our thoughts are with the @JONAHTALILOMU family tonight. A very special person. @AllBlacks" - former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick.
"I am so, so devastated to hear of the passing away of @JONAHTALILOMU The greatest superstar and just a fabulous human being. Deeply saddened" - former England international Jonny Wilkinson.
"The All Black in Blue. Rugby's first global superstar... a friend we will miss always #RIPJonah #legend #alwaysablue" - one of Lomu's former clubs, Cardiff Blues.
"Can't believe that Jonah Lomu has passed away. Was with him and his wife and family for an evening last month. So sad, life is so cruel. RIP Jonah you were a true legend and a gentleman. You changed the game of rugby and will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with your family" - former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies.