Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home Sport Rugby

Jonah Lomu: First true great of game who fought kidney disease


By Neil Francis

Published 19/11/2015

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.

Jonah Lomu, the outsized All Black wing who split teams asunder at every turn during the 1995 World Cup and became one of international sport's most celebrated figures as a result, brought rugby union together as one yesterday as players, coaches and administrators from all corners of the game's landscape mourned his death at the distressingly early age of 40.

Lomu died of a heart attack shortly after returning to his home in Auckland from a trip to Dubai. He had been suffering from kidney disease for more than 20 years.

Tributes were paid in the country's parliament, while the prime minister John Key, speaking from Vietnam, described Lomu as the 15-man code's "first true global superstar".

Key could not say whether the North Islander of Tongan descent would be awarded a state funeral, but he described him as "an inspirational athlete" and a "great ambassador, not only for rugby but for New Zealand".

There had been no secrecy over the extent of Lomu's health issues: the first signs of nephrotic syndrome (a kidney disorder) were evident even as he steamrollered his way through the 1995 tournament in South Africa, and a steady worsening of his condition forced him to retire from international rugby in 2002, although he continued to play at club level until late 2006.

According to Dr John Mayhew, a close family friend who served as the All Blacks' chief medic for 13 years, the cardiac failure was "inevitably" linked to his kidney problems.

The England attacking skills coach Mike Catt, who faced Lomu on World Cup semi-final day in Cape Town two decades ago without conspicuous success - the New Zealander scored four tries in a performance that passed into legend - was among the many on-field victims who paid his respects.

"I'm massively sad, but the legacy he's left is incredible," Catt said. "He inspired millions of people to watch the sport and start playing it.

"His ability to move at 18 stone was amazing. He didn't want to run through people every time but he had that ability, and his footwork and speed off the mark was second to none. You just couldn't get near the guy."

One of the fabled All Blacks who played alongside Lomu that day, the number eight Zinzan Brooke, described himself as "in shock" at his friend's passing.

"He could have played in any position he wanted," Brooke said. "It was amazing, what he did in that 1995 World Cup. He launched himself on to the international scene and changed the way the game was played in an instant. He was a very calm person, but you knew you had a force with the team. He was phenomenal."

Mayhew, who had continued to act as Lomu's personal doctor, said his patient had been in "pretty good shape" recently - a view that was borne out by several of those who spent time with him during the World Cup in England in September and October.

"I have been his doctor for a long time," Mayhew added. "It's staggering. A very sad day."

Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning England coach whose sides had their share of Lomu challenges down the years, recalled one eve-of-match meeting he held with his players. "I remember telling them there was nobody in the All Blacks who would get into our side, that man for man I wouldn't swap anybody," he said.

"When I got to the end, Will Greenwood put up his hand and said, 'Clive, we're all with you, but I think I'm speaking on behalf of the team when I say we'd probably swap Austin Healey for Jonah Lomu'."

Belfast Telegraph

How to Complain

If you have a complaint about the editorial content of the Belfast Telegraph or Sunday Life then contact the Editor here. If you are not satisfied with the response provided then you can contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation here

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting?

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph