Monday 16 September 2019

Jonah Lomu - A rare breed who captured imagination of all sports fans

All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu has passed away aged 40. Photo: Getty Images
All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu has passed away aged 40. Photo: Getty Images

Jonah Lomu was one of a truly rare breed, a special talent who captured the imagination of fans of all sports across the globe.

Within minutes of New Zealand Rugby announcing the death of the former All Blacks wing, at the age of 40, rugby union's biggest names were paying tribute on social media.

But players of other sports were alongside them, all equally keen to share their memories of one of the greatest players ever to play rugby union.

Born in Auckland to Tongan parents in 1975, Jonah Tali Lomu spent the early part of his childhood in Tonga. In his autobiography, he revealed those years were not always happy.

His imposing frame meant he was soon making an impression on the rugby pitch. However, when he represented New Zealand schoolboys, it was as a number eight.

He had moved out to the left wing by the time he won the first of his 63 Test caps as the youngest ever All Black - against France at the age of 19 years and 45 days - and it was as a move none would argue with.

The move served his country well and on a personal level the strength, pace and spirit he regularly exhibited brought him 37 tries and a healthy bank account.

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It also served the game well. The power and dynamism regularly displayed by Lomu played a key part in helping rugby union move towards a more professional era.

Lomu's contribution at his breakthrough World Cup in South Africa in 1995 was outstanding. He scored seven tries in the competition, four of them in the semi-final against England. Mike Catt, bulldozed for one of them, admitted afterwards he thought "there's gonna be a bit of a train smash here" shortly before 18-stone Lomu hurtled at his 13-stone frame.

Understandably, that World Cup is regarded by many as Lomu's high-point. He went one better the next time with a tournament-high eight tries - but the All Blacks exited the 1999 competition in the semi-finals and the statistic is forgotten by many.

However, bigger battles were coming off the field. A rare kidney condition, nephrotic syndrome, meant he missed most of the 1997 domestic campaign.

His international career ended in 2002 and the following year he spent the first of many hours receiving kidney dialysis treatment. The year after that Lomu revealed he needed a transplant. He had it - but his body rejected it in 2011 and the dialysis continued.

Lomu was in the United Kingdom and Ireland for the recent World Cup, where he tweeted passionately about the sport he still loved. The success of "the brothers in black" was relished publicly by someone who had lived the moment himself.

Tragically, less than three weeks later, others were tweeting with the same passion about Lomu.

He is survived by wife Nadene and their young sons Brayley and Dhyreille.

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