Almost exactly eight years later - on this day, June 18th, 1995 – when New Zealand met England in that year’s World Cup semi-final, England were beaten after 20-year-old man-mountain Jonah Lomu scored four tries for the Kiwis.
Frustrated England captain Will Carling said: “He’s a freak and the sooner he goes away the better.”
It was a remark laced with English humour, because Carling, one of the England backs trampled over by Lomu, in fact had great respect for his formidable opponent. And when, in 2015, Lomu tragically died at the age of 40 after a heart attack, Carling said:
“I am so sad to hear of his death. He was Rugby’s first global star. What a player – and, more important, what a good guy. He was gentle off the field; awesome and unstoppable on it.”
Lomu was the youngest ever All Black when he played his first international in 1994 just a couple of months after his 19th birthday. He finished his career with 63 caps and scoring 37 international tries.
Lomu’s greatness was later summed up by Tony Underwood, one of the England backs brushed aside by the big man. He went on to become a pilot with Virgin Atlantic, and in 2009 spoke about that 1995 game:
“After 14 years I’ve stopped dreaming – or having nightmares – about it.
"At the time I was feeling fairly confident. I’d played well all season. The first try was the worst. Lomu left me on the ground, then trampled over both Will Carling and Mike Catt, and the onslaught started.
"You’ve got to look back in awe at the way he took us apart.”
Nightmares aside, Underwood believes that the Lomu magic cast a wider spell.
“It was just a great time for rugby,” he said. “I can’t imagine there would ever have been a better time to be in our sport.”
Published: April 26, 2016
Rugby Union Superstar