There is one team that is overall synonymous with legendary in rugby, and that is the New Zealand All Blacks. Yesterday, the world lost one of it's hero's of the sport Jonah Lomu. Lomu not only was a hero to young players as he made the All Blacks test squad at just 19, but he also came from a humble background, with Tongan parents, and growing up in one of the poorer areas of Auckland, Mangere. At 6'5" and 262lbs he was a beast of a man and proved it on the field, competing in two World Cup series. In his player profile, the ALL BLACKS write
Lomu in top physical condition could run 100 metres in around 11s. Given space and room he was a nightmare for much smaller defenders and the image of him trampling over England's Mike Catt in the 1995 World Cup semifinal will be one which persists through the next few decades.
Statistics don't do full justice to the impact Lomu made in New Zealand and world rugby. But they do illustrate the contrasts in his career between his two magnificent World Cup years and the rest.
Of the 37 tries he managed in his 63 tests more than half (20) were scored in the 1995 season and in the 1999 World Cup tournament.
Every hero however has a human side and personal struggles. For Lomu, the biggest challenge was his health. Just after his first World Cup, he was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a serious kidney disease. He missed part of 1996, and most of the 1997 season in order to treat his health issues. During his treatment and battle with the disease, rugby never was fully off his mind. In 1998 he won a gold medal in as part of the sevens team at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Lomu remained in All Black squads up until 2002, even when his play had fluctuations, as many suspected due to his health. When he was clearly battling for pace and confidence, Lomu dropped out of the 2003 Super 12 early and soon after, his health problem had worsened.
In May 2003, the NZRFU announced that Lomu had been put on dialysis three times a week due to deterioration in his kidney function. Side effects of Lomu's dialysis treatment led to severe nerve damage in his feet and legs; his doctors warned him that he faced life in a wheelchair if a he didn't get a kidney transplant. The kidney her received was donated by a Wellington radio announcer, Grant Kereama. The kidney lasted until 2011, but was then rejected by his body. In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, he talked about his boys, who are 5 and 6 years old.
My goal is to make it to the boys’ 21sts,’ says Lomu. ‘There are no guarantees that will happen, but it’s my focus. It’s a milestone that every parent wants to get to. My dad died young and that makes you think. I want my boys to be healthy and if they get to 21, they should be fit and healthy and live a normal life.’
The loss of a hero doesn't just effect the teammate they played with, but it is a loss to the entire community of the sport. He was the youngest player to ever make the All Blacks. He came from a low income background and became the first New Zealand sportsman to become a multimillionaire while remaining based in New Zealand. He has been described as the first true global superstar of rugby union, and he played in two World Cups. He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame and the IRB Hall of Fame. Lomu was a member of the Champions for Peace club, he portrayed by Isaac Fe'aunati in Invictus, his name was used in two rugby video games. All while despite his failing kidney, and he still tried to come back to rugby fr a variety of charity events. At the young age of 40, it is a huge loss to the world of rugby, but the impact he made in his career will not be forgotten.