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Jonah Lomu: My childhood hero stayed affable and humble to end

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By Jonathan Bradley

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.

Whoever said you should never meet your childhood heroes clearly hadn't had the pleasure of an interaction with Jonah Lomu.

As Ireland prepared to face Romania at Wembley Stadium back in September, I found myself with the rarest of commodities at a World Cup, some free time.

With the captain's run taken care of early in the day, and three eagerly anticipated pool clashes in the afternoon, I decided to head to Olympic Park to watch the games on the big screen with a few friends.

At half-time of the first there were double-takes all round us as, from the side of stage, arguably the most famous All Black of them all emerged.

Even dressed in a loose fitting grey shirt and shifting from foot to foot as he clocked the attention coming his way, there was just something about the most feared player of his generation.

Years of ill health had clearly diminished his physical presence - he was no longer the imposing man mountain capable of rendering opposition tacklers as nothing more than speed bumps on his way to the line - but the aura remained.

Hundreds of fans gathered as what was meant to be a quick signing session at half-time stretched long into the moments after Italy and Canada had resumed play.

All too happy to stop and chat with those that approached him, it was his persistently amenable nature that saw him, despite an ever increasing line of autograph hunters snaked around the vicinity, proclaiming his hope to this paper that Ireland, where his wife had family ties, would meet his native New Zealand in the final.

Such a request would have been easy to dismiss - rugby players in this part of the world are generally an easy bunch to deal with but much lesser figures in the global game have rejected such off-the-cuff encounters unless explicitly obligated - but not for Lomu.

For someone who had changed the game, and given such memories to so many, humility and humbleness remained a constant and such stories are hardly isolated.

His generosity to teammates and patience with star-struck fans has been well documented over the years and there is many an Ulster fan now in their 20s that cherishes the memory of a childhood encounter with the great man when New Zealand trained at Shaw's Bridge in Belfast during their tour of Britain and Ireland in 2001.

To see it endure after all this time though, really was quite something.

Tragically in a recent interview, and at just 40 years of age, he spoke of how he only wished to live long enough to see his two young sons (Brayley, 6, and Dhyreille, 5,) reach their 21st birthdays.

It wasn't to be. The man may be gone; his legend will persist as long as the game is played.

Belfast Telegraph

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