One of the greatest rugby union players to have ever played the game and a much loved son of New Zealand, Jonah Lomu, died unexpectedly last night aged 40.
The former All Blacks winger, whose imposing physique and often brutal running game provoked in opponents equal amounts of admiration and fear, had suffered from health problems since calling time on his playing career in 2002 due to a rare kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome. He underwent a kidney transplant in 2004 and had been on dialysis treatment for the past 10 years.
Details of the exact cause of his death are unclear.
John Mayhew, the former All Blacks doctor, released the following statement
“The family are obviously devastated, as are friends and acquaintances,” “The family have requested privacy at this stage, they are obviously going through a terrible time. It was totally unexpected.”
Lomu had been at the recent Rugby World Cup in the UK where he had undertaken some promotional work for a tournament sponsor. He and his family holidayed in Dubai on their way back to New Zealand.
“We’re all shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of Jonah Lomu,” New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said. “Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world. We’re lost for words and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jonah’s family.”
Lomu, who was born in Auckland but spent his early years in Tonga, was not just one of the best sportsmen New Zealand has produced. The gentle giant’s tough upbringing in South Auckland nearly led him down a different path, but his determination to eschew a life of street violence made him a role model and inspiration to many young boys and girls of Pacific Island heritage who faced similar challenges at an early age.
In 2011 he travelled back to Tonga to promote the game before the Rugby World Cup. Tonga’s sports minister Fe’ao Vakata said of his impact there: “Certainly if other countries were proud of Jonah Lomu, then firstly Tonga would be much prouder.”
He had also been an ambassador for Unicef New Zealand since 2011, and a patron of the charity Kidney Kids NZ.
New Zealand’s prime minister John Key was among those to express his condolences. “Deeply saddened to hear of Jonah Lomu’s unexpected passing this morning. The thoughts of the entire country are with his family,” he said.
Graham Henry, who managed the All Blacks to World Cup victory in 2011, said: “It’s just so sad, I saw him at the World Cup and he looked so well. It’s just a hell of a shock.”
Lomu played 63 times for New Zealand after making his debut in 1994. He scored 37 tries, including his most memorable one against England in the World Cup in 1995 when he smashed through three England backs before touching down, a score which was this year voted the greatest in World Cup history. You can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPMZrPjW5cs
His performances in that World Cup turned him into a global sporting superstar and his match-winning performances on the pitch and humility off it made him extremely popular. He scored seven tries in the tournament, four of which came in that game against England, as the All Blacks reached the final, where they eventually lost to the hosts.
Lomu made his All Blacks debut at the age of 19 years and 45 days, against France in Christchurch in 1994, breaking a record that had stood for 90 years to become New Zealand’s youngest Test player.
In an interview he gave a few months ago he said:
“I don’t have any regrets. Everything that I achieved in rugby I cherished. I was in a World Cup final in South Africa against South Africa when a country became one. As Francois Pienaar [the Springboks captain] said: ‘It was not 80,000 in the stadium, it was 44 million.’”
In total, Lomu scored 15 World Cup tries, a record equalled by South Africa’s Bryan Habana at this year’s tournament. He played against Ireland four times and scored four tries. He leaves behind a wife and two children aged six and five.