Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Jonah Lomu: The day black taxi driver Michael gave All Blacks legend the tour of Belfast

By Rebecca Black

Published 19/11/2015

Michael Johnston with Jonah Lomu on the Whiterock Road, with Black Mountain in the
Michael Johnston with Jonah Lomu on the Whiterock Road, with Black Mountain in the background
All Blacks great Jonah Lomu at his rampaging best

It was a black taxi tour that Belfast man Michael Johnston will never forget - the day he introduced the world's greatest rugby player, Jonah Lomu, to his home city.

The retired New Zealand winger's passing at the age of just 40 was announced in the early hours of yesterday, leaving fans across the globe shocked.

Lomu, who scored 37 tries in 63 Test matches, had suffered from health problems since retiring from the game in 2002 due to a rare kidney disease. He died after suddenly collapsing just hours after returning to Auckland from a trip to Dubai.

The player will be remembered by Black Taxi Tours driver Michael, who took some of the legendary All Blacks rugby team on an adventure around some of the city's Troubles hotspots.

The team were fresh from the pitch on Lansdowne Road where - thanks to Lomu's prowess - they had just clobbered the Ireland side 40-29.

Relaxing after their win, the side travelled north to explore the other side of the island before their long journey home.

In 2001, just three years after the Good Friday Agreement, the peace was still settling in Belfast, and such visitors were a rarity.

Lomu was already the first true superstar of rugby union when Michael enjoyed showing him around the sights, including the famous peace walls and murals.

And he couldn't resist posing for a photograph with the sports star under the slopes of Black Mountain.

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.

Jonah Lomu has died at the age of 40.
Jonah Lomu has died at the age of 40.
Lomu's made a huge impact at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
In 1995, Jonah Lomu became rugby's first global superstar when he took the Rugby World Cup by storm. Lomu scored seven tries in the tournament but it was his performance against England in the semi-final which really caught the eye. The twenty-year-old winger, who weighed just under twenty stone and towered over his opposition at 6'5", famously trampled over Mike Catt on his way to scoring four tries and dumping England out of the tournament in a 45-29 victory for the All Blacks. After the game, England captain Will Carling famously described Lomu as 'a freak'. The Kiwi's further eight tries in the 1999 tournament make Lomu the all-time Rugby World Cup top try-scorer with fifteen tries.
Jonah Lomu (right) is a big draw, despite never having won the Rugby World Cup
Born in Auckland to Tongan parents in 1975, Jonah Tali Lomu spent the early part of his childhood in Tonga.
He 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.
One of the All Blacks greatest players was also one of the sports most intimidating. Standing at 6ft 5in, Lomu would dwarf his opponents and the ones that dared tackle him would be swatted away like flies. That he has since moved into the world of body building and can now be seen in skimpy underwear striking silly poses has somewhat tarnished his fearful reputation.
Superstar: Jonah Lomu in action for the All Blacks
In front of a world record crowd of 109,874 in Sydney, Jonah Lomu scored a last minute try for the All Blacks, giving them an incredible victory against Australia.
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.
Jonah Lomu limbers up with the New Zealand squad in Auckland today" data-title=" Jonah Lomu limbers up with the New Zealand squad in Auckland today" >
Jonah Lomu limbers up with the New Zealand squad in Auckland today
Despite his World Cup heroics, Lomu never won a World Cup.
Lomu looks on during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony at Eden Park on September 9, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
His international career ended in 2002 and t he 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 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. He is survived by wife Nadene and their young sons Brayley and Dhyreille.
Rugby World Cup 1995 New Zealand vs Ireland Jonah Lomu ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Jonah Lomu is tackled by Gary Longwell of Ireland Mandatory Credit©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ireland v Barbarians. All Black Jonah Lomu playing for the Barbarians breaks through the Irish defence during the friendly at Lansdowne Road, Dublin Sunday May 28 2000. PA Photo: Chris Bacon...S
Jonah Lomu scores a try against Ireland during the second half of their international rugby union game at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, November 17, 2001. REUTERS/Paul McErlane...S
New Zealand Rugby star, Jonah Lomu at the launch of Ballygowan's new Sports Pack in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel. Picturen By David Conachy. 16/01/2003.
All Black star Jonah Lomu is tackled by four year old Dan Sheehan at the launch of the new Ballygowan sports Pack at Stephens Green in Dublin. 16/01/2003
Jonah Lomu of New Zealand sings the national anthem before the start of the England v NZ International, Twickenham, London 09/11/2002.
New Zealand Rugby star, Jonah Lomu at the launch of Ballygowan's new Sports Pack in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel. Picturen By David Conachy. 16/01/2003.
Jonah Lomu and Denis Hickie in the International Friendly Ireland vs New Zealand All Blacks 17/11/2001. ©INPHO/Patrick Bolger
Cardiff Blues and former All Black Jonah Lomu arrives for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Sunday December 11, 2005.
Rugby Legend Jonah Lomu turns on the Christmas Lights in Limerick.

Until then, wingers had been quick and nimble. Now they were big and brutal, but fast nonetheless.

Despite their teams having been on the receiving end of Lomu's skill and strength, Irish and English players paid heartfelt tributes to Lomu.

They included Gary Halpin, who famously gesticulated at New Zealand, having scored the opening try for Ireland in that 1995 clash.

The Irish celebrations were short lived, as New Zealand - and a young Lomu - struck back.

"He did for rugby what Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis did for rock and roll ... rugby had never seen anybody that big, or that quick," said Halpin.

"Our first impressions of him were of his size and physique - I suppose our lasting impression was that we very quickly realised that something had arrived on the world stage - that he was going to change world rugby, that rugby would never be the same again.

"Rugby had never seen anything like him unleashed.

Ulster and Ireland rugby ace Tommy Bowe added: "Very shocked to hear the sad news about Jonah Lomu. Our sport has lost its first real superstar. RIP Jonah."

Brian O'Driscoll, who played against Lomu early in his own career, said: "I remember in that game [against New Zealand in 2001] being left one-on-one with him. There was inevitability about what was going to happen.

"Once they got the ball into Jonah's hands, against someone that was 5ft 10in, simple physics would tell you there was only going to be one winner.

"He ran over the top of me and scored a try, and that was part of their comeback."

Jonny Wilkinson, who kicked England to victory in the 2003 World Cup, added: "I am so, so devastated to hear of the passing away of [Jonah Lomu]. The greatest superstar and just a fabulous human being. Deeply saddened."

Irish international Gordon D'Arcy wrote: "Jonah, a legend of the game and a lovely man off the field. He will be missed. Thoughts with his family. RIP Jonah."

And scrum-half for Sale and Ireland, Peter Stringer, added: "So sad to hear that Jonah Lomu has passed away. "He was a superstar that changed our game forever and above all, a true gentleman. RIP Jonah."

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph