Jonah Lomu: rugby union's first superstar

By Shaun Davies
BBC News

Published
image sourceBen Radford/Allsport/Getty
image captionJonah Lomu runs over the top of England's Mike Catt for his famous 1995 try

Jonah Lomu changed rugby union forever when he was unleashed upon the 1995 World Cup.

Hosts South Africa would eventually defeat the All Blacks in the final, but it was Lomu's seemingly unstoppable runs that provided the tournament's most memorable moments.

The All Blacks winger had turned just 20 years old, but he was about to become the sport's first international superstar.

Weighing 18 stone (119kg) and standing 6ft 5in (196cm) high, his freakish power left opponents dumbfounded.

It typically took two or three men to bring him down, as he imperiously sent individual tacklers sprawling across the turf.

Commanding performances

When the All Blacks played England in the semi-final in Cape Town, Lomu was particularly devastating, scoring four tries as New Zealand won 45-29.

At one stage he brushed off two England defenders before literally running straight over the top of England fullback Mike Catt to score in the corner. In one recent poll, voters selected this as the greatest try in World Cup history.

media captionJonah Lomu, considered one of New Zealand's finest rugby union players of all time, has died at the age of 40.

In the match's aftermath, England captain Will Carling famously said: "I am hoping not to come across him again. He's a freak - and the sooner he goes away the better."

But Lomu did not go away, remaining the most feared player in rugby union.

He scored crucial tries as the All Blacks became the first Tri Nations Series champions in 1996, winning all their matches against Australia and South Africa.

By the end of 1996 he had been diagnosed with a complex and rare kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome, which forced him to take time off in 1997.

Despite his health issues he returned to rugby. At the 1999 World Cup in Wales he scored eight tries before France unexpectedly knocked the All Blacks out in the semi-finals.

He made 63 Test appearances for the All Blacks, scoring 37 tries. He remains the joint most prolific World Cup try scorer with 15 tries, equal with South Africa's Bryan Habana.

Battle with illness

media captionThe late Jonah Lomu and the Ngati Ranana London Maori Club perform a haka in Covent Garden

But Lomu's health was deteriorating and by 2003 he received kidney dialysis three times a week. In 2004 he received a kidney transplant from his close friend, New Zealand radio announcer Grant Kereama.

Lomu continued to play rugby from 2005 in New Zealand's domestic competition and in Wales, but retired in 2007.

His body rejected the donor kidney in 2011, forcing him to return to dialysis.

Earlier this year, the man who once bulldozed his opponent with impunity told the Daily Mail he had just one ambition - to see his two young sons grow to be 21 years old.

Jonah Lomu died in Auckland on Wednesday at age 40. He will be remembered as one of the greatest sportsmen of his generation, a player whose sheer physical might transformed the entire code of rugby, helping usher it into the professional age.

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