Rudolph Jacobs
Rugby Journalist
8 minute read
18 Nov 2015
5:00 pm

Tributes pour in for Jonah Lomu

Rudolph Jacobs

The giant, who changed the modern game, died at age 40 from kidney disease.

Lomu, the hulking New Zealand winger who died on Wednesday from kidney disease, dragged rugby union into the modern era with the same ferocity he used to trample opposing players.

Shock waves were sent out world-wide on Wednesday morning following his passing.

Lomu suffered from a kidney disease and had a transplant in 2002 but in 2011 the transplant stopped functioning and he had passed away at his home early on Wednesday morning, shortly after returning from a visit to the USA.

Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 Test matches but famously never scored against the Springboks and was in South Africa earlier this year to pay a visit to his 1995 World Cup opponent Joost van der Westhuizen who is suffering from motor neuron disease.

At the time of Lomu’s visit to SA he told Joost: “I remember you as the No 9 in the Bok jersey that tackled me and prevented me from scoring a try in the 1995 World Cup Final.”

Tributes came pouring in on Wednesday morning including the New Zealand Prime Minister, Sanzar, Saru and countless rugby players all over the world who was touched by Lomu’s giant kindness.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) said they were deeply saddened by the news that Lomu had passed away in Auckland on Wednesday.

“Lomu was the star of the 1995 Rugby World Cup tournament, held in South Africa, and went on to become arguably the sport’s first global superstar. He returned to South Africa earlier this year for the making of a documentary during which he was reunited with former Springbok opponents as well as being a guest at the SARU Player of the Year Awards.

“We woke up to the news of Jonah’s sudden passing this morning and I speak for the whole South African rugby community when I say we are deeply, deeply shocked and moved by this news,” said Mr Oregan Hoskins, president of SARU.

“Jonah was a simply unbelievable player but, as much as he was a mighty All Black, he had a special place in South African hearts because of the connection we made in 1995.

“He was a credit to his country and a world ambassador for the game, loved as much for his humility and generosity of spirit as his playing. His passing leaves a hole in all our rugby lives.

“I would like to pass on the condolences of the South African rugby community to the entire New Zealand rugby community but most particularly to Jonah’s family and closest friends.”

Countless other legends, former rugby players, current players, and even cricket stars shared their sadness.

Joost van der Westhuizen (former Bok scrumhalf): Difficult to write with eyes full of tears on my eye tracker. Thank you for everything Jonah, RIP my dear friend.

Breyton Paulse (former Bok wing): The World lost an icon! A gentle giant who was loved globally. Condolences to his family and friends, sad day.

Chester Williams (95 Bok wing): You were the ultimate legend of rugby – the ultimate player on the field and the gentle giant off the field, my condolences to his family.

Brad Barritt (England centre): RIP Jonah Lomu, an absolute legend and an inspiration for millions of rugby players across the world.

David Miller (Proteas cricketer): RIP Jonah Lomu, Thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends.

Herschelle Gibbs (former Proteas cricketer): What a man, what a sensational rugby player he was.

SP Marais (Sharks and Kings fullback): people come and people go but legends live forever. RIP Jonah you will always be remembered.

Sanzar (governing body of the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby) also paid tribute to Lomu following the sudden and devastating news of his passing in Auckland.

Interim chief executive, Brendan Morris, said: “Not only was Jonah Lomu a legend of our game, he was one of those rare superstar players that transcended rugby. He quickly became a household name around the world with his power and skill, inspiring a generation of athletes.

“While we mourn the tragic loss of Jonah, we should also take time to remember and celebrate his wonderful career and achievements. Lomu will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest players the game has seen.

“Our heartfelt condolences are extended to the Lomu family and New Zealand Rugby as another legend is taken far too soon. Rest in peace.”

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula comments on the passing of Jonah Lomu

Pretoria: Minister of Sport and Recreation South Africa Mr Fikile Mbalula has learned with sadness the passing of Jonah Lomu. Lumu, New Zealand international rugby player died in Auckland on Wednesday, at the age of 40.

“Lomu was regarded as one of the greatest rugby players of our times. Many rugby careers across the world have been shaped with Lomu as the role model. He was one of our most influential and powerful players. We send our condolences to his rugby home All Blacks, to his family and friends and to all rugby loving people. The world mourns with you.” Minister Mbalula said.


Shock as All Black legend Jonah Lomu dead at 40

Lomu had for decades struggled with the kidney illness that cut short his playing career, but close acquaintances said his sudden death still came as a shock.

He passed away at his Auckland home, family spokesman John Mayhew said, after returning from a trip to Britain.

“It was totally unexpected, Jonah and his family arrived back from the UK last night and he suddenly died this morning,” Mayhew told TV3.

Mayhew, a former medic with the All Blacks, revealed Lomu’s family were “going through a terrible time”, before he broke down in tears.

Lomu played 63 Tests and scored 37 tries for New Zealand, rising to stardom at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

At his peak, the 1.96 metre (six foot five inch) Lomu weighed 120 kilograms (265 pounds) and could cover 100 metres in 10.8 seconds.

He combined the speed of a backline player with the power of a forward, creating a new template for wingers and attracting a global audience for the newly professional sport of rugby union.

Fellow legends paid tribute on social media to a player they acknowledged had a unique status.

“I am so, so devastated to hear of the passing away of @JONAHTALILOMU,” England’s Jonny Wilkinson tweeted. “The greatest superstar and just a fabulous human being. Deeply saddened.”

AFP / Gal Roma/Adrian Leung
Factfile on New Zealand rugby player Jonah Lomu who died Wednesday aged 40. 90 x 88 mm

France’s Thierry Dusautoir said “you inspired a generation of rugby players around the world”, while Welshman Jonathan Davies hailed “a true legend and a gentleman”.

Lomu’s death was most keenly felt in his homeland, where New Zealand Rugby chief Steve Tew said: “We’re all shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of Jonah Lomu. Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world.”

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also paid tribute to an “inspiration” and “game changer”.

“The thoughts of the entire country are with his family,” he said.

– ‘Transcended rugby’ –

Shortly after announcing himself at the 1995 World Cup, Lomu was diagnosed in late 1995 with the rare kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome, which eventually forced him out of the international scene in 2002 at the age of 27.

AFP / William West
Jonah Lomu during the 1999 Rugby World Cup

Yet his spell at the top had such an impact that he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011.

The global body’s chairman Bernard Lapasset said in 2013 that Lomu revolutionised the sport at a crucial time when it was turning professional.

“He was rugby’s first professional star at a time when the sport needed media coverage and recognition from sponsors,” he said.

“The conjunction of the way rugby was going pro and the way Jonah Lomu exploded on the scene was perfect for the game’s future.”

Former Wallaby Tim Horan said Lomu’s fame never went to his head and he was the first to walk into the dressing room to shake an opponent’s hand.

“His passing leaves not just a big hole in rugby, but in world sport,” Horan told Fox Sports.

Lomu remained one of the world’s most recognised and adored rugby players even 13 years after his last Test.

“He was one of those rare superstar players that transcended rugby,” South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby boss Brendan Morris said.

Before his death, Lomu was in Britain for promotional work linked to the recently completed World Cup, won by his beloved All Blacks.

In public appearances he looked healthy, joking with fans and leading a rousing rendition of the haka in London’s Covent Garden.

“He looked the best I’ve seen him in many years… he just had that sparkle and that look of life in his face… I’m totally shocked,” Australian great George Gregan said.

Lomu is survived by his wife Nadene and sons Brayley and Dhyreille.

© 2015 AFP


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