In 1999, England were preparing to play the All Blacks. The evening before, Clive Woodward gathered his side for a rallying team talk: “There’s absolutely nobody I’d swap man for man” he included amongst his spirited words. When he finished, Will Greenwood injected: “Clive we’re all with you, but on behalf of all the team I think we’d swap Austin Healy for Jonah Lomu.” At that time I don’t think any team on the planet would have disagreed. Lomu’s destructive running had lit up the 1995 and 1999 World Cups with teams unable to handle the immense power that led to him to becoming the joint highest try scorer in RWC history, a record he still holds today alongside Brian Habana. Lomu was a truly magnificent star in his All Black kit. The man who changed the game I love so dearly, forever.
He was moved to the wing to utilize his speed beyond the three quarters, a move that would change the game forever.
Lomu represented his country at Under 19 and Under 21 level before going on to become the youngest All Black ever, winning his first cap at just 19. He began his career playing rugby union in the back row as a flanker- no surprise given his Athenian physique. He was moved to the wing to utilize his speed beyond the three quarters, a move that would change the game forever. Before Lomu, wingers were twinkle toed tricksters who used their slim frames and magical feet to evade tacklers, David Campese being a wonderful example. Being faced with the prospect of such a powerful player out wide befuddled some of the world’s greatest teams. In New Zealand’s famous World Cup Semi-Final meeting with England in 1995, Lomu ran right over the top of hapless England full-back Mike Catt on his way to scoring the first of four tries. Catt said of the incident “I knew there was nothing bigger or stronger that would come at me for the rest of my career so I knew I was alright. But it looks worse than it was.”
Lomu retired early due to his Kidney illness (Nephritic Syndrome), which would later claim his life prematurely. However, this did not stop him from creating a lasting legacy to match his on field exploits. He was appointed a UNICEF ambassador four years ago to help underprivileged children all over the world. As the esteemed patron of Kidney Kids NZ, he used his image to bring awareness to the charity whilst visiting the camps and Christmas parties to inspire children fighting their own battles with kidney diseases.
Watching Lomu as a young man inspired my rugby ambitions, but also my human ones.
Watching Lomu as a young man inspired my rugby ambitions, but also my human ones. Thank you Jonah for the runs, the tries and all you did for those around you. Rest in peace. We will never forget the colour you brought to the game of rugby and the world.