New Zealand is a small, non-wartorn country in the middle of nowhere. Thus it does not get a lot of international attention. Thus when a Kiwi dies and is featured in obituaries in the New York Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph, you can rest assured that they have had a global impact beyond most of their countrymen.
Jonah Lomu was one such New Zealander. He died on Wednesday morning aged only 40. For many years we had known he was sick, but I don’t think many realised how close to death he actually was.
During his short life Jonah was the most globally recognised rugby player in history. He burst onto the global stage at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa when people watched in awe at this 6ft 5in, 120 kg winger who was strong, fast and balanced. He could beat players on the outside, he could fend players who got to close to him and he could, if need be, run over people who tried to tackle him. In the semi-final against England, Lomu scored four tries and one of them left the commentators speechless (I’ll leave you to watch the hihglights of the game from YouTube above to see which one it was!)
His performance (apocryphally perhaps) induced Rubert Murdoch to bid for the television rights for the Southern Hemisphere rugby games, thus giving the newly professional game financial stability. From 1994-2002 he played 63 games for the All Blacks and scored 37 tries. He was one of the best to play for New Zealand. And what is even more incredible, he did it while suffering from a rare, serious kidney disorder. As so many are saying, imagine what he could have done if he had been fully fit!
As you can see in the Telegraph report, Lomu overcame not only health issues, but a background that has unfortunately blighted so many – an abusive father, gangs and financial hardship. His secondary schooling at the Methodist Wesley College seemed to have put him onto the right tracks and also onto the rugby pitch from which he was to become so famous.
Lomu’s nickname was the “gentle giant” – he was appraently softly spoken, very humble and always willing to give time to causes, his fans and strangers in the street. One particularly nice story I heard last night was that he used to pray before each match that no one would get hurt.
Lomu was survived by his third wife and his two young sons.
Eternal rest grant unto him, Lord.