Kiwi wingers always seem to be stars,in my era as a rugby fan, we've seen huge talents pass through from Kirwan to Savea, but one name and one man always literally stood head and shoulders above them all. Jonah Lomu.
I was on my way to bed last night and as is pretty standard for me, I had a quick check on Facebook to see, what I assumed, would be a million 'oooh, it's windy' posts and I saw a post wishing Jonah the best on his journey to see God, instantly I went cold and headed straight to BBC sport where my fears were realised and it was, in fact, Jonah Lomu who had passed on.
Rarely do celebrity deaths really affect me. Jerry Collins tragic death a few months ago was one of the exceptions, and Jonah is another, I find it hard to comprehend how two hugely powerful legends of the sport can be taken from us in such a short space of time. I can only imagine the big guy upstairs needed some muscle for his team.
Lomu was the first global superstar of the professional era and is certainly one of the best players to ever lace up boots.In fact, he won the #rugbyunited poll a few years back to decide the greatest player of all time. He was a worldwide phenomenon, you never saw a bad word said about him, and it didn't matter whether you were in Wellington, Weymouth or Wyoming, rugby fans everywhere revered him.
He made his full debut for the All Blacks in 1994, the youngest New Zealand international ever at just 19 years old and rugby was never quite the same again. Winning 63 caps for the Kiwi's, scoring 37 tries and is the joint holder of the record for most tries scored at World Cups with Bryan Habana. He first came to prominence with a mighty showing in the 1994 Hong Kong sevens, where he flourished under the tutelage of Eric Rush.
Converting from the back row to the wing, Lomu stood at a mighty 6 foot 5 and a tad under 19 stone! Combined with scary speed, it's not hard to understand (for those that never bore witness to Lomu) why he was such a dominant winger. I would imagine Tony Underwood and Mike Catt still have nightmares about the 1995 world cup match where Jonah ran in 4 tries, consistently smashing through the England backline. It was impressive, it was scary, it was awe inspiring......it was Jonah encapsulated in one game!
At the end of 1996, Lomu was diagnosed with kidney disorder, nephrotic syndrome. and he had to put his career on hold whilst undergoing treatment. However, Jonah returned as dominant as ever and over subsequent years, he added a Commonwealth games gold medal in 1998 and in 1999 he was in the World Cup winning New Zealand side. He remained an All Black international until his international retirement in 2002, he officially retired in 2003 when playing super rugby for the Hurricanes as the nephrotic syndrome once again took it's toll on him, although he had two comeback attempts, one with Cardiff Blues in 2006 that lasted just 10 games and one in 2009 for Marseille that lasted just 3.
A brief stint as an amateur bodybuilder in 2009 caught the publics imagination, but was shortlived and a planned charity boxing match in 2011 had to be cancelled as, yet again, Jonah's body failed him.
Jonah had started dialysis three times a week in 2003, something which was still happening in 2015. and underwent a kidney transplant in 2004 which his body rejected shortly after he took part in the 2011 opening ceremony.
On the 18th of November, Lomu returned home (via a family holiday in Dubai) from the UK where he had been undertaking promotional work as an ambassador for the rugby world cup. and upon getting back to New Zealand unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. He recently said he hoped to live until his sons were 21, in reality, they were just 5 and 6.
Jonah leaves a hole in the rugby world, his rare mix of humility and enormous star power ensured that Jonah was always going to be a draw when he appeared on any rugby broadcast or event appearance and at just 40 years old, he was taken from us far too soon. The fact so many non-rugby fans on Facebook and Twitter are discussing what a loss he is says just what impact he had on rugby, and sport in general.
Coincidentally, I was planning a mini blog today as it would have been Stephen Engel's birthday. Trevor texted Stephen's son Charlie to say we were thinking of him today and Charlie replied to say that he bet's Stephen would be waiting for Jonah with a beer! Trevor emailed me to say he can imagine Steve waiting to welcome Jonah, introduce himself as the #RU Associate Director, give him a pin badge and procede to talk to him about #rugbyunited, and rugby in general, all day long. That image certainly makes me smile under difficult circumstances. Thinking of both Jonah and Stephens families today.