TRIBUTES have been pouring in for former New Zealand rugby union star and global icon Jonah Lomu, who died this week at the age of 40.
Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 matches for New Zealand between 1994 and 2002 before being diagnosed with a serious kidney condition in 1996. The illness forced him to end his career prematurely and he underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.
But Jonah Lomu will be one of the few sporting icons that will truly live up to the word ‘legend’, because of the way he single-handedly transformed the view of world rugby. When he first burst onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup finals, eyebrows were raised and mouths left open in awe of what this machine-of-a-man could muster.
He was a breath of fresh air which would blow rugby within the professional boundaries it now knows today. The sport had witnessed nothing of his nature before: a towering, strong, indestructible engine of pure muscle, power and speed who would simply bulldoze through defensive lines.
He burst onto the rugby stage as a 20-year-old in the 1995 World Cup finals and had made his name instantly as the youngest ever All-Black the year before. With only two caps to his name, many people doubted that he was ready for the biggest stage of all. But it was his All-Black counterparts that weren’t ready for him. Throughout the tournament in South Africa, he terrorised defensive back lines and sowed fear and intimidation into every last player that came near him. He was the Goliath against the Davids. He was part of an amateur game that was too economically weak to
undergo a professional baptism, but his individual performance in that tournament paved the way for an influx of new fans across the world and a stream of commercial deals.
There aren’t many in history who are forever revered and glorified long after they retire from their sport – they tend to fade and become a distant memory in an era where the fast-moving pace of sport is propelled by technology and a whole stream of media channels.
In the professional field, high-tech facilities and methodical support networks have advanced and taken sports such as rugby to a new level, and on a dramatic scale too. Never before had rugby seen a 6ft 5in, 19 stone, capable of running 100m in 10.8 seconds, dancing through defences and teasingly stepping in and out of players if needed.
Rugby didn’t know how to react at this inspiring new figure, so everyone reacted simply by trying to be like Lomu. Surely, after all the advanced medical knowledge that exists today, the nutritional and training regimes that rugby players often benefit from, surely, we would see an array of stronger machines, more powerful engines than that of the Lomu type?
Judge for yourselves.
Featured image: Rugby Lad