SPORTING HEROES – JONAH LOMU
by Steve Wade
Jonah Lomu, born on the 12th of May 1975, went on to become the youngest ever All Black when in 1994 he made his debut aged 19 years and 45 days. He went on to become the first true world superstar of Rugby.
Playing in the 1995 World Rugby Cup in South Africa at age twenty, he was widely acknowledged as the star of the tournament even though New Zealand lost in the final to the hosts. His performance ensured his place as the true star of the sport just as the game turned professional in the same year.
Lomu played in only two World Cups and never finished on the winning side. After the defeat by South Africa in 1995, the All Blacks were beaten by France in the semi-final of 1999, despite Lomu scoring two tries.
He played in only two World Cup Tournaments in 1995 and 1999 yet still holds the joint record for the most tries scored in the competition at 15. This has only been equaled by South African Bryan Habana in 2015.
His impact in the first World Cup he played was remarkable. He was included in the squad despite his age and only having two previous caps. He scored seven tries in five matches including four against England in the semi-final with the first of these regularly voted as one of the greatest of all time.
In the 1999 tournament, Lomu scored a further eight tries, including two in the semi-final against France but it wasn’t enough to see the All Blacks go through in the match and they were eventually beaten 43-31.
The end of his international career came before the next World Cup was due to be played in 2003. He was diagnosed as early as 1995 with a serious Kidney disorder which was to blight his career from then on, resulting in a Kidney transplant in 2004. His last international matches were played in 2002 as it was clear his condition was worsening and it was no longer safe for him to play.
One further great highlight of his career was the opening match against Australia in the 2000 Tri-Nations tournament in South Africa. Labelled the “match of the century” by many, the Wallabies were leading 35-34 with a few minutes remaining until Lomu flew down the line to score the winning try. Just to give you an idea of what a massive draw Lomu and top-class rugby was, the game was watched by 110,000 people live and millions worldwide.
Lomu did try to come back after his transplant but continued to be plagued by his condition, eventually retiring in 2007.
Jonah Lomu died aged only 40 from a heart attack directly related to his condition in 2015. His impact on his chosen sport was incredible. He brought worldwide recognition to the game and was the first and biggest global superstar rugby has ever had. Lomu at full speed, bumping tackle after tackle off with his great pace, balance and power was one of the great sporting sights to behold. The game of Rugby will never forget him.