One of the most featured and celebrated faces in rugby posters worldwide, Jonah Lomu was the kind of legend we’ll never see the likes of again. His life tragically cut short by a heart attack at the age of 40, Jonah Lomu is one of the most iconic, capable and successful rugby players of an entire generation.
Spectacularly fast and powerful, Jonah Lomu played an impressive 63 tests for New Zealand during his career. He was also the youngest player ever to compete in an international game for the All Blacks, joining the squad at just 19 years of age. When his international career came to an end, he’d earned not only 63 caps, but a huge 37 tries for his country.
A Global Superstar
What set Jonah Lomu apart from the competition was his position as perhaps the first and only true global rugby superstar at the time. He was routinely compared to the likes of Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali – the kind of person you revered and respected, even if you weren’t particularly into rugby. Presence and personality alike made him one of the world’s most celebrated and cherished sportsmen – his popularity exceeded that of just about anyone in the game.
In fact, he was also named ‘rugby union’s biggest drawcard’ at the time, consistently pulling in the biggest crowds whenever he made an appearance. He was named the best player at the World Cup in South Africa in 1995 and to this day holds in the all-time record for most tries scored within a World Cup.
Tragically, Jonah Lomu was diagnosed with a serious kidney condition that immediately put an end to his professional rugby career. At the tragically early age of 40, he suffered a fatal heart attack. His name and legend live on nonetheless – Jonah Lomu was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame on October 9, 2007, and the IRB Hall of Fame on October 24, 2011.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 12, 1975 in Greenlane, Auckland, New Zealand, Jonah Lomu had a turbulent upbringing that took place partially in Tonga. He was partially raised by his aunt and uncle, tragically losing his cousin and uncle to the gang violence at a relatively young age. It was then that his mother removed him from Tonga, enrolling him at Wesley College where he received his education.
Jonah Lomu was 14 years old when he started playing professional rugby, playing alongside the legend that was and is Eric Rush. His performance was so impressive that Rush invited Lomu to play at a New Zealand sevens tournament in Singapore. Just a few years later, Jonah Lomu represented New Zealand at the age of 18 – his name already having been recognised as an up-and-coming superstar in the making.
When Jonah Lomu was 19, he became the youngest player ever to join the All Blacks, making his full professional international debut against France. He was then included in the All Blacks lineup for the World Cup in South Africa in 1995, where over the course of five matches he scored an impressive seven tries.
His run of success on and off the pitch continued, though it was in 1996 that he was forced to take time off after being diagnosed with a serious kidney problem. There were concerns he would never return to the field again, but Jonah Lomu made his triumphant return in late 1997. After which, he would once again pretty much dominate the sport in its entirety, in terms of both popularity and his professional performance.
In 1999, in a game against Samoa, he scored one of the All Blacks’ nine tries. He scored eight tries at the 1999 World Cup. In pool matches as well, he scored two tries against Tonga, one against England and two against Italy. He also scored the winning try in the first game of the 2000 Tri Nations Series, played in front of 110,000 people and widely considered to be the rugby match of the century.
Jonah Lomu struggled with illness and injury from around 2005 onwards, missing a season due to a shoulder injury and breaking his ankle shortly afterwards. He returned to professional rugby in 2006, though was forced to retire permanently in 2007 as his kidney condition became progressively worse. He would go on to play a number of charity matches and appear at a variety of special events, but his professional career was considered over at this stage.
Awards & Achievements
Jonah Lomu died with an incredible array of awards and accolades under his belt. Along with being the youngest player ever to represent his country as a member of the All Blacks, he was the youngest player to score ten test match tries and the first to score 12 test match tries in a year.
His performance in the 1995 World Cup is right within the top 20 greatest sporting moments in recorded history. He also won a gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. He was also considered to be one of the true gentlemen of the sport, dedicated much of his time to supporting good causes and raising funds for charities.
Despite having made millions during his career, his tragic final months and years would leave Jonah Lomu with barely a penny to his name when he died. However, such was the incredible love for the world’s first true rugby superstar that trust funds were started on behalf of his kids by many of his fellow rugby players worldwide.
Immortalised in some of the most iconic rugby posters ever printed, Jonah Lomu is the kind of one-off legend the sport may never see again. Nevertheless, his legacy remains every bit as alive and thriving as ever in the memories of millions of fans worldwide. If you weren’t lucky enough to see Jonah Lomu in action before his tragically early death, now’s the time to indulge in a few of his career highlights online.