Legendary Lomu a true sporting great


The word great is overused, but there can be no doubt that Jonah Lomu, whose sudden death was announced on Wednesday, merited such high praise.

Widely recognised as rugby union's first truly global star, Lomu shot to stardom at the age of 20 when he made an unforgettable impact at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

While Nelson Mandela's trophy presentation to Francois Pienaar provided the tournament's most iconic image - a nation-defining moment for South Africa that transcended sport - the sight of New Zealand wing Lomu trampling over Mike Catt to score the first of four tries in a semi-final win over England also remains firmly lodged in the minds of many.

Lomu registered 15 World Cup tries in total, a record haul only equalled by Bryan Habana at this year's tournament, but his opening touchdown against England 20 years ago was so much more than a simple five-pointer. Instead, this was a score that left millions around the world in awe of a player boasting an unrivalled combination of pace and power.

Catt, who was 23 at the time, told ESPN on Wednesday: "I knew there was nothing bigger or stronger that would come at me for the rest of my career."

Despite the presence of other greats such as Zinzan Brooke and Andrew Mehrtens, the All Blacks failed to win the two World Cups at which Lomu excelled.

His one-man demolition of England in 1995 was followed by a final defeat to South Africa, a team he remarkably failed to score against throughout his international career, while two tries from Lomu were not enough to prevent a 43-31 loss against France at the semi-final stage four years later.

Nevertheless, Lomu remained rugby's most recognisable name and would surely have lit up further World Cups had his career not been cut short by a rare kidney syndrome.

A Test record of 37 tries in 63 appearances is impressive, yet statistics alone cannot do justice to the excitement and fascination he inspired when rampaging through defences.

Former England coach Clive Woodward provided an amusing anecdote on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, as he reflected on Lomu's fearsome reputation.

"The night before a game I used to list the two teams and I said in a team meeting 'there's absolutely nobody I'd swap man for man'. I was doing my motivational talk," explained Woodward.

"I got to the end and Will Greenwood put his hand up and said: 'Clive, we're all with you, but on behalf of all the team I think we'd swap Austin Healey for Jonah Lomu'."

At this year's World Cup in England and Wales, which Lomu attended, the latest wearer of the All Blacks' number 11 jersey, Julian Savea, bounced off three tacklers to score a try against France that prompted comparisons to his famous predecessor.

However, few would argue with the conclusion drawn on Wednesday by Australian Rugby Union chief executive officer Bill Pulver, who simply stated: "There will never be another Jonah Lomu."