Jonah Lomu: The Icon

The following is an article provided by Palatinate.

“He’s a freak – and the sooner he goes away the better”. These were the words of Will Carling, the then England captain after his team had just been battered 29-45 by the All Blacks of New Zealand. This “freak” was IRB Hall of Fame inductee Jonah Lomu, and he died tragically on Wednesday at the tender age of 40. He is one of the greatest wings the game has ever seen, and the most influential player.

It is impossible to over-exaggerate the impact that Jonah had on the sport of Rugby Union; amidst the slings and arrows of turning professional, the 6’5” 120kg Lomu was the catalyst which developed Rugby Union into the sport we know today. Until the arrival of this sub-11 second 100 metre behemoth Rugby Union was still an amateur sport, but after leaving the majority of teams in the 1995 World Cup in his considerable wake, Rugby League tried to poach him; Rugby Union realised their players were not strong or quick enough to contend with such a man and professionalism was born.

His performance in the aforementioned semi-final was voted as the 19th greatest sporting moment of all time in the UK and the iconic footage of his tumultuous backward roll-inducing stampede of Mike Catt in that very match is what will live most in the memory, but the fact that he was hampered by illness (which would eventually lead to him having a kidney transplant in 2004) and was such an inspiration to those fighting renal disease is what is easy to forget.

Scoring 44 tries in 63 international matches whilst under the immense strain of a chronic illness is an achievement in itself, but to create the legacy and legend that he has proves how much of a fundamental impact he has had on the sport. Otherwise half-full stadiums would be packed to the rafters once there was a sniff that Jonah would be playing; every rugby player, at some point in their life, has been jealous of Jonah and what he had, of that there is no doubt.

Our generation have watched Jonah terrorising defences for years; he was a part of our rugby upbringing. Although he hasn’t played a competitive match since 2007, a gaping hole has still been left in the rugby world. Poroporoaki Jonah.

Photograph: Global Sports Forum via Flickr