Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution states that “all species arise and develop through natural selection by inheriting small variations that increase the individual’s ability to survive and compete”.
That defining moment for the game of rugby union came on a chilly winter’s night in Johannesburg South Africa in 1995, when Jonah Lomu burst onto the scene as an unstoppable force during the World Cup tournament – a sheer behemoth of a man with the speed of a top-end sprinter playing on the wing.
The game of rugby union was changed forever.
Whilst rugby has always had its share of big men, Lomu had the added advantage of speed, which coupled with his balance, poise and finishing ability, made him rugby’s first global on-field icon. His transcendence off the field still reverberates with us today.
Although Lomu never tasted a cold brew from the Cup itself in victory, he is the joint top try-scorer for a single tournament and played in two games – against the Springboks in ’95 and France in ’99, a final and semi-final respectively – that go down in Rugby World Cup folklore as simply miraculous days, even if you have Jonah Lomu on your team.
Lomu scored against every tier-one nation he faced, except for the occasions he faced the Springboks.
It was at that tournament in 1995 where Jonah put his name on the map, and South Africa has a special affiliation for him – and not only within the rugby community.
His wife was South African and they met here in 1995, and his work with Nelson Mandela is well documented. These are also the small variations that made him so much more than a sportsman, particularly to us as South Africans.
He simply dominated the game when in form and free of injury like no other player has and has since.
That’s not to say Lomu did not have his off days, especially when the ball was kicked in behind him. But he was so much more than just a rugby player tearing down the touchline like a bullet train – he did so much for our game off the field, not just in the various charities he was involved with.
His character and conduct when stuck down by serious kidney illness was always met with a smile, even though the once-giant of a man was reduced in physical size, his stature continued to grow and resonate with those he interacted with.
When we think of the game of rugby union and its World Cups, we can’t help but think of a Herculean like man in a black jersey with the No.11 on his back, floating above the turf with such poise, running through men, over them and around them like the big kid does when you play junior rugby as a child.
Jonah Lomu represents Darwin’s final evolution of the rugby player in so far as there will never be one like him again.