Major teams: Counties Manukau, Wellington, Auckland, Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes
Country: New Zealand
Test span: 1994-2002
Test caps: 63 (54 starts)
Test points: 185 (37T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Jonah Lomu
Last summer marked the 25th anniversary of Jonah Lomu becoming rugby’s first bona fide global superstar. A teenager when the tournament started, Lomu’s name can legitimately be linked with the term ‘shock and awe’ at the 1995 World Cup.
He came from humble beginnings, growing up in Mangere, South Auckland, and started out playing rugby league. But at 14 he switched to union with Wesley College.
A fine schoolboy athlete, he was clocked at 10.8s over 100m. This speed, allied to his 6ft 5in, 19st frame, meant his impact on the game was profound, with jumbo-sized imitators George North, Alesana Tuilagi and, most recently, Caleb Clarke all boasting elements of his game.
In 1995, Lomu, who had made his New Zealand debut at the Hong Kong Sevens the previous year, had already scored three tries against Ireland and Scotland. But it was when he faced England that his star went stratospheric, leading to a chain of events that set rugby on a path to professionalism, with TV channels happy to pay serious money for athletes of his calibre.
Lomu scored four tries against Will Carling’s men, but it was the first, when he swatted Tony Underwood away and trampled over Mike Catt, that left fans and opposition players dumbstruck. Though he was shackled in the final, Lomu’s celebrity soon saw a Sony PlayStation game named after him.
At the 1999 World Cup, Lomu lived up to his reputation, scoring eight tries in the tournament. One image that encapsulated his power came against France in the semi-final when full-back Xavier Garbajosa simply skipped out of the way as Lomu careered towards him on his way to the line.
“He was like a tower block running at you,” Jason Robinson once said.
Lomu was to play his final Test for New Zealand in 2002, at just 27, when a debilitating kidney complaint started affecting his ability to perform at the highest level. He took his leave with 37 tries – currently seventh in the All Blacks’ all-time list.
The great man died aged 40, shortly after returning home from the 2015 World Cup where he had done some promotional work for a tournament sponsor.
The game mourned the passing of a player who remains unsurpassed as a rugby icon.