Very recently, the Rugby world was saddened to hear the news that one of the sport’s greatest players, Jonah Lomu, had passed away, aged just 40, from a complication relating to a pre-existing medical condition. The star was one of the most recognisable players in the world, both to rugby fans and even those who did not follow the sport. The opportunity should be taken to look back at his career and his actions off of the pitch.
One of the first things that struck most spectators was Lomu’s incredible stature. Standing at 6ft 5ins tall, and weighing in at around 19stone during his prime, he cut an imposing figure on the pitch. Compared to most players who had previously occupied the Wing positions, he was a giant. However, his size did nothing to decrease his sprinting speed.
When he got going, Lomu was reported to be able to cover 100metres in less than 11 seconds. To add to this, when he was competing on the international stage, opponents were forced to cower in their boots as Lomu and the rest of the All Blacks (New Zealand National team) performed their fearsome haka (war dance) before each match.
Lomus Rugby History
Jonah Lomu first came to international attention when he was selected for the All Blacks’ 1995 World Cup squad, despite only having received two previous international caps. He had earned his first caps at just 19 years and 45 days, and by the beginning of the World Cup, he had only just turned 20.
His performance against England in the semi-finals, where he scored 4 tries, is widely regarded as one of the greatest sporting performances in history. After the game, England’s captain, Will Carling, described Lomu as a “freak”, because of his seemingly superhuman performances on the pitch. Although New Zealand were not victorious in the final, Jonah Lomu had already become the Player of the Tournament, and was a household name.
At the end of the 1996 season, fans were shocked to discover that Lomu would be forced to take a step back from his career, after being diagnosed by a rare and serious kidney disorder. Although his play rate dropped, he was still able to continue competing in an All Blacks tour of the Northern Hemisphere in 1997. By 1999 he was fit enough to secure his place in the 1999 World Cup squad, where he helped his country to make it through to the semi-finals. Despite Lomu scoring twice, his efforts were not enough to beat out France, who won the match 43-31.
Into the new millennium, Jonah Lomu continued to astonish the world with his rugby prowess by playing a leading part in New Zealand’s successes in international competitions. In 2001, he was part of the New Zealand team which managed to win the Rugby Sevens World Cup, and he continued to compete throughout the year.
By 2003, his punishing schedule was once again beginning to take its toll, and his health concerns became more serious. He was advised by doctors that he would need a kidney transplant as soon as possible, or he was likely to end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In 2004, he was given a kidney by his friend, radio presenter Grant Kereama, who had discovered that he was a donor match. Despite these difficulties, he was cleared to play professional rugby again in 2005. Although he was never able to return to the national team, he did continue to perform at a club level.
Off The Pitch
Off of the pitch, Jonah Lomu took part in a number of high profile charity matches and other charity events. One of his main philanthropic efforts was to promote peace through sport. He also played an important part in helping to promote Rugby Union around the world.
Following his death, a public memorial service was held at Eden Park on the 30 November 2015. Dozens of his former peers attended to pay their respects, and the crowd heard tributes from international faces, including Queen Elizabeth II. When considering the impact that this great player had on the sport, it is always worth remembering his own words: “Imagine what I could have done healthy”.