Getting through his first French club rugby match was the easy part. Now the big challenge looms for Jonah Lomu: a crash course in five different languages as the Jonah phenomenon continues to rumble through Europe and Asia like a steam train.
The French and Spanish classes are under way, and soon he’ll be starting on Ni Hao, Konnichi Wa and Privet, too.
No worries, says The Big Fella as he reclines in a chair in the lobby of the Pullman Hotel in Marseille, tattoos of the names of his nine-month-old son Brayley and partner Nadine inked large on each of his mega-forearms.
“I’ve got a few languages that I’ve got to learn in the next couple of months … French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese and Russian, I’m taking all those at once,” he told NZPA.
“But that’s all to do with business that I’m into.
“It’s hard but it’s something I have to learn and at the same time show respect to the companies and people I’m dealing with.”
His main gig these days is rugby ambassador for adidas, but he’s also linking with some energy companies in China and is Japan’s face of their 2019 rugby World Cup.
It seems he’s big in Moscow, too, although their lingo is causing him the biggest headaches.
“Mandarin’s not so bad because I understand a bit of Cantonese so it’s not too far off, but Russian, I just don’t have a clue,” he said.
So, for three or four days a week, one hour each per day, Jonah is going back to school.
That’s if he can fit it in.
Lomu, 34, calculates he flew from New Zealand to Europe 53 times last year, hence his move to settle in France and play some rugby as the star signing for third division club Marseille-Vitrolles on a three-year deal.
“I was doing double-whammies, I’d fly here for 24-48 hours then I was on a plane back home, I was home for two days then I was back on a plane over here,” he said.
It’s still hectic for the All Blacks legend who played his final test against Wales in 2002 before the much-publicised illness which left him barely able to walk and required a kidney transplant.
Clearly, he’s bigger in parts of Europe than he is in New Zealand.
He was given a standing ovation by the National Stadium crowd in Tokyo before last month’s Bledisloe Cup Test. And he almost caused a stampede in Milan at a signing session when the All Blacks were in town.
“It is different, it’s a bit daunting at times, especially now I’ve got a young family,” he said.
“I had to prep them on what it was going to be like, especially once we landed here in Marseille.
“They didn’t know what to make of it. When we got off the plane and there were so many camera flashes you couldn’t see where the baggage carousel was.
“We have police escorts sometimes, and I have good security around me when I know there’s going to be mad days.”
There’s also some fun to be had. Maserati invited Lomu to test drive their new Quattroporte GTS from Marseille to Milan for the All Blacks’ test there.
It was a great trip, and a quick trip, he said. How quick? “Um, I’ll keep that quiet, I think.”
Lomu still loves his grown-up toys and is awaiting delivery of his new sets of wheels, a Ford Focus RS WRC, and a Range Rover Sport. All with a legendary Lomu sound systems installed, of course.
“Yeah the boys are busy putting that in. But I don’t take delivery of both for another three weeks,” he says, tapping his itchy accelerator feet.
Money clearly isn’t an issue for Lomu, whose family are his No.1 focus now. He reportedly flew his favourite Welsh tattooist to Dubai in March to get Brayley and Nadine’s names inked on his arms.
He wants them to be happy in their new surroundings and says they’ve settled in well after the initial media storm. They move into a house next month after spending the initial weeks in a hotel.
“I want my son to grow up as a normal kid,” he said.
“I want him to know that he’s a Kiwi, but also with parents that come from different cultures.
“I will teach him the Tongan language and I also understand a little bit of Maori. There’s a huge mix in him, Chinese, Maori, Irish, New Zealand and Tongan blood in him.”
France will be home for the next three years, then Lomu will reassess. He hasn’t ruled out a move back to New Zealand, but admits the laidback lifestyle here has quickly grabbed him.
Lomu caught up with the All Blacks this week, including his old mate Ma’a Nonu who he used to drive to Hurricanes training in Wellington.
He was at their captain’s run on Friday at Stade Velodrome ahead of the Test against France, standing out like a beacon in an orange t-shirt and chewing the fat with Graham Henry.
“It’s great to see this team grow into a team that quite possibly could win the World Cup in 2011,” he said.
“The emotions are pretty high for me. I know what these guys are going through and what they have to put themselves through to win a game.”
His influence was noted by All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who said he couldn’t believe the awe in which Lomu was held in Europe, more than a decade after his awesome deeds at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups.
Lomu says his health is good, and his recent bodybuilding exploits in Wellington he’s in fine shape. He’s 118kg, what he says is his optimum weight, after ballooning up to 142kg two years ago.
He was happy enough with his effort for his new club in their 63-18 win over Montmelian at the weekend, playing at centre.
“I feel fantastic,” he said.
“I did my job and didn’t try to do too much, just what was expected of me, and I passed with flying colours.”