Lomu – The Unstoppable Gentle Giant

The unstoppable Jonah Lomu charges forward for another try. Photo: Reuters
The unstoppable Jonah Lomu charges forward for another try. Photo: Reuters

by Ray Setterfield

November 28, 2015 — One of two public services in memory of Jonah Lomu, New Zealand’s phenomenal Rugby Union star, took place on this day in the Auckland suburb of Manukau, near his home. A private service was held two days later.

Lomu tragically died ten days earlier at the age of only 40 after a heart attack associated with kidney disease.

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.

The All Blacks won Rugby Union’s first World Cup on June 20, 1987 when they beat France 29-9 in the final at Eden Park, Auckland.

Almost exactly eight years later - on June 18, 1995 – when New Zealand met England in that year’s World Cup semi-final, England were beaten after 20-year-old man-mountain 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.

After the tragic news broke 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’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

Articles on Events in November