Umaga credits Lomu for putting rugby 'back on the map'


Tana Umaga has spoken of his devastation following the death of Jonah Lomu and credited his former New Zealand team-mate for single-handedly putting rugby back on the map.

It was announced on Wednesday that All Blacks legend Lomu had passed away suddenly in his homeland at the age of 40.

The former wing was diagnosed with a serious kidney condition back in 1996 and his outstanding career was cut short due to the illness.

But Lomu's passing - which came just after he returned from the World Cup in England, where the All Blacks triumphed - came as a shock and Umaga was stunned by the news.

"I had a lot of calls and I put them off and I was seeing it was some close friends that I hadn't heard off for a while so I knew something must be up," he told the New Zealand Herald.

"So on my break I just checked it and got the news. I'm probably like everyone else, pretty devastated obviously for us and those that knew him well, but also for the family that he left behind, and for the man himself.

"Our thoughts and our prayers go out to them and that's where we want to be right now. We're just waiting to see what the steps are next for us - those that knew him and supported him - what we can do to help out as much as we can.

"He's a good friend of ours. Our history goes back to playing days when he was younger. At this stage I can't really think too much about that, I haven't really thought about that. It's just all about his family.

"It's been a very tough year for us in the rugby fraternity so to lose another brother is pretty tough, always. Now that we've been through it once, our heart goes out to the family, and that's pretty much all I'm thinking about at the moment."

Umaga said Lomu should be remembered not only for his phenomenal talent on the field, but also his influence off the park.

"He was a very generous man. Generous with his time, what he had, with advice," the Blues coach added.

"His background, what he's achieved and done for world rugby is huge. Single-handedly he put rugby back on the map. We've got to make sure that we understand and respect that."

Lomu is survived by his wife Nadene and two sons.