The rugby world is in mourning. It is in mourning because one of its greatest all time players has died at the age of 40. He scored 37 international tries in his career for New Zealand, and he still holds the record for the youngest player ever to start for them, at the age of just 19. His skill and power on the ball mesmerised others and inspired them to become the next generation. He was arguably New Zealand’s greatest ever rugby player. He was Jonah Lomu.
Jonah started playing rugby early, and was soon recognised for his skill and power. When he was just 14, Lomu was invited by NZ Sevens great Eric Rush to a competition in Singapore the next day. Lomu initially played as a forward, but then moved to the left wing, a choice which changed his life forever. In 1993, he played for NZ in the under 19 squad, and the following year the under 21 squad. However, it was during a sevens match with Eric Rush in Hong Kong that Lomu first announced himself to the world. The very same year, Lomu broke a long held record, as he appeared for NZ at just the age of 19 years and 45 days. The match was against France in Christchurch.
Then, in 1995, Lomu was chosen for the NZ Rugby Union squad that were playing in that year’s World Cup in South Africa. This must have been a shock to Lomu, as he was inexperienced and extremely young. Seizing his opportunity, Lomu travelled with the squad. Then, as the world cup started, he blew everyone away. Lomu scored 7 tries in his first 3 matches, two against Ireland, one against Scotland and four against England in the semi-finals. The first try in this match has been listed as number 19 on the 100 greatest sporting moments of all time. Then, Lomu went on to play in the final. Neither South Africa nor New Zealand scored a try, with SA eventually winning 15-12. Lomu and the All Blacks may have lost the final, but they still carried on strong.
But sadly, it was the same story in the 1999 World Cup in the UK. Lomu once again showed his brilliance, scoring 8 tries in the pool matches, quarter-finals and semi-finals. However, in the semi-final match against France, after a long and hard game, NZ eventually lost 43-31 to a defiant French team. In the years that followed, Lomu continued his excellent run of try scoring, but soon had to retire from International Rugby in 2002. This was because Lomu would need a kidney transplant to keep him alive. However, three years later, in 2005, Lomu returned to rugby. Between then and his retirement Lomu played for four different clubs and scored one try. Then, in 2007, Lomu retired from competitive rugby.
Sadly, Lomu’s health problems continued throughout the next few years, and in 2011, he was rushed into hospital after another kidney failure. Once again, he picked himself back up and kept going, but finally he died four years later, on November 18th 2015. Lomu has given a lot to rugby over the years, and he has been classed as the first ever bulky winger of his generation. He may be gone, but his legacy still continues.
R.I.P Jonah Lomu, the world is missing you already.
By James Walker