In 1995, just before Ireland’s opening pool game against New Zealand, Irish winger Richard Wallace was interviewed by a reporter:
Rep: So, Richard. What do you think of your opposite number?
RW: A typically big, strong, talented All Black, no doubt.
Rep: Yeah. Richard, he’s 6 foot 4!
RW: (Wow, that’s tall!)
Rep: He’s nearly 19 stone!
RW: (Oh, Jesus!)
Rep: And, he runs the 100 metres in just over 10 seconds!
RW: (Good Lord!)
(Taken from: From There To Here, by Brendan Fanning)
The next day, most of the rugby world got their first glimpse of Jonah Lomu.
I remember watching the match at home, as Lomu steamrolled over the Irish players. He scored two tries that day, though the most impressive thing he did was to run most of the length of the field shrugging off players. Simon Geoghegan eventually caught him by one leg, but Lomu was able to pass the ball to Josh Kronfeld, who ran in to score.
You couldn’t help but be impressed by the display, even though it was your own team he was decimating.
The rugby world had never seen someone of his dimensions out on the wing before. Wallace himself was one of the bigger wings at the time, and he was 5’11 and 14 stone. Lomu was quite a sight.
New Zealand went on to beat Wales and Scotland before facing England in the semi-final. England had been crowned Grand Slam champions earlier in the year. They were a team full of stars – Jason Leonard, Brian Moore, Martin Johnson, Rob Andrew, Jeremy Guscott, Will Carling and the Underwood brothers. Legends all, it was believed that they would provide a much sterner test than the Celtic countries.
That belief lasted less than two minutes. Lomu was given a bad pass and had to turn to collect the ball. He pushed Tony Underwood aside, ran around Will Carling and then stumbled a bit into Mike Catt, before knocking him to the ground and running over him!
It was incredible. Lomu scored three more tries in the first half, in possibly the most impressive 20 minutes of rugby ever seen.
South Africa managed to nullify the threat of Lomu in the final, but by then a star had been born. Lomu looked set to become rugby’s first global superstar, a player who would transcend the sport. Rugby’s answer to Pele or Michael Jordan.
Unfortunately, Lomu’s toughest opponent would not be met on the field. What was unknown at the time was that Jonah Lomu was suffering from the effects of Nephrotic Syndrome, a serious and chronic kidney illness. Between World Cup matches, he’d be bedridden for days.
Lomu went on to score 37 tries in 63 Tests, scoring against every major country he played, apart from South Africa. He also holds the record of most World Cup tries scored, with 15 from 11 matches. All while battling this terrible, destructive kidney illness.
He suffered horribly from the illness, requiring dialysis three times a week in 2003 and was almost confined to a wheelchair. Luckily he managed to receive a kidney transplant (donated by a New Zealand radio presenter). He continued to suffer kidney problems, however, which scuppered his attempts at a comeback.
Lomu left the world some great memories in his short career. Here are some of the highlights: