New Zealand rugby legend Jonah Lomu, who revolutionised wing play to become the sport’s first global superstar, died yesterday in Auckland at the age of 40, prompting a global outpouring of grief.
Lomu had suffered from kidney disease for two decades and had a transplant in 2004 but former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew said his death was a complete shock.
“It was totally unexpected,” Mayhew said.
“Jonah and his family arrived back from the UK last night and he suddenly died this morning.”
Lomu, who was awaiting another transplant and undergoing dialysis treatment, had undertaken commercial obligations at the recent Rugby World Cup in England, won by New Zealand.
His death took the rugby-mad country by surprise and triggered a flood of messages of condolence from around the world.
New Zealand’s parliament expressed their sorrow before they began proceedings yesterday.
“Anyone who was living in New Zealand in the 1990s would not have failed to notice the massive impact Jonah Lomu had not only on sports fans but the wider community in this country,” Sports Minister Jonathan Coleman said.
“Lomu was a man who came from humble beginnings and rose to become rugby’s first global superstar.”
Lomu was a man who came from humble beginnings and rose to become rugby’s first global superstar
Lomu’s record of 37 tries in 63 tests was an impressive haul, all the more so considering he played much of his career with nephritic syndrome, the disease that attacked his kidneys.
New Zealand Rugby, who arguably owe part of their huge commercial success over the last 20 years to Lomu’s performances at the 1995 World Cup, said they were “shocked and saddened” by Lomu’s death.
“We’re lost for words and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jonah’s family,” chief executive Steve Tew said.
“Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world.”
Born to Tongan parents in South Auckland, Lomu spent some of his childhood back in the Pacific Island nation after a cousin was hacked to death in a street attack. He was then sent to Wesley College where he found his niche on the sports field and was timed running under 11 seconds in the 100 metres.
All Blacks coach Laurie Mains plucked him out of sevens rugby in 1994 but Lomu found his transition from the loose forward position he played at secondary school to the wing a challenge.
He barely made the Rugby World Cup squad for South Africa in 1995 after being deemed not fit enough for the fast-paced game the coach wanted to play.
He proved almost unstoppable at the tournament, however, electrifying the rugby world with seven tries – four in the semi-final against England alone, including one when he trampled over fullback Mike Catt that left many speechless.
The pace and power displayed by the 1.95m tall and 119kg Lomu changed the wing position forever, with the traditional lightweight flyer gradually all but disappearing from the test game.
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