Lomu, a rugby 'freak' cut short in his prime
18 November 2015, 13:54
Wellington - Jonah Lomu, the hulking New
Zealand wing who died on Wednesday from kidney disease, dragged rugby union
into the modern era with the same ferocity he used to trample opposing players.
Hailed as the sport's first global
superstar, he shot to international fame at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa,
a year after becoming the youngest ever All Black at the age of 19 years and 45
At his peak, the 1.96 metre Lomu weighed
120 kilograms and could cover 100 metres in 10.8 seconds, providing a
combination of speed and power that terrorised opponents.
While New Zealand ultimately lost to hosts
South Africa in the 1995 final, the tournament's defining image was of Lomu
trampling over a hapless Mike Catt on his way to four tries in the All Blacks'
semi-final win over England.
"He's a freak, and the sooner he goes
away the better," dejected England captain Will Carling said after the
Lomu eventually scored 37 tries in 63 Tests
between 1994 and 2002.
But shortly after his breakthrough 1995
tournament, he was diagnosed with the rare kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome,
which eventually cut short his career.
The wing estimated that, even at his
best, the condition left him playing at 80 percent capacity, feeling constantly
drained and taking days to recover from training sessions.
After a health-related dip in form
following the 1995 World Cup, he returned to his best at the 1999 edition,
scoring eight tries to take his tally at the rugby showcase to 15.
The record was only matched this year by
South Africa's Bryan Habana.
After 1999, Lomu never again hit the highs
that turned him into one of the game's biggest drawcards and his international
career petered out in 2002, when he was just 27.
Lomu was inducted into the World Rugby Hall
of Fame in 2011, when the sport's governing body said he had left an indelible
mark on the World Cup.
That same year, Britain's Sunday Times
hailed him as the most influential player in rugby history, crediting him with
boosting the game's popularity as it made a difficult transition to
professionalism after more than a century as an amateur code.
"It is said that one man never changes
history, not even a man as remarkable as Lomu. But because of his magnificence
and because of the time and the place, he drove rugby into a new era," the
As his kidney condition continued to
worsen, Lomu was warned in 2003 that complications including nerve damage could
confine him to a wheelchair unless he had a transplant.
He later described the time as his darkest
"I was this guy who'd been racing
around down there on that field in 1999, running straight over people, scoring
tries, winning games, having fun. And I ended up so sick that I couldn't even
run past a little baby," he said in 2005.
In 2004, he received a kidney donated by
friend and New Zealand radio broadcaster Grant Kereama and, while his health
improved, attempted comebacks were repeatedly marred by injury.
Lomu was born to Tongan parents in the
gritty Auckland suburb of Magree and said in the 2013 documentary "Anger
Within" that he endured a tough childhood with an abusive father.
When he was 12, machete-wielding gang
members hacked to death his uncle in a turf war, prompting his mother to enrol
him for a rugby scholarship at a top school to give him an escape route.
He never looked back and was soon playing
on representative teams.
Lomu divided his time between New Zealand
and France in his latter years with his third wife Nadene, with whom he had two
sons, Brayley and Dhyreille.
He returned to New Zealand in 2011 for the
All Blacks' successful World Cup campaign, starring at the tournament's opening
ceremony, but spent 16 days in hospital after a health scare linked to his
Doctors told him in February 2012 that his
donated kidney had failed and he needed a new transplant.
Lomu said then that "everyone has to
die sometime" and he had no regrets.
"I'm really lucky, I've already lived
more in one lifetime than many would in six or seven lifetimes," he said.
"For me, the important thing is to ask
'can you look in the mirror and say you've done everything to enjoy life?'."