Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

1995: The try scoring blitz

Jonah Lomu of New Zealand evades the diving tackle of Rob Andrew of England during the Rugby World Cup semifinal in at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. New Zealand won the match 45-29.
Photo / Allsport
Jonah Lomu of New Zealand evades the diving tackle of Rob Andrew of England during the Rugby World Cup semifinal in at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. New Zealand won the match 45-29. Photo / Allsport

Jonah Lomu wasn't just the poster boy for the 1995 World Cup. He is the most recognisable symbol of all Rugby World Cups.

Lomu's colossal first tournament - backed up by another terrific performance four years later - was such that his reputation was untainted by the All Blacks' so-called failures.

No player has had such a devastating effect on the World Cup - he was a runaway train who will forever be recalled in romantic terms, except perhaps by those who tried to stand in his way.

So famous was Lomu that his road kill - especially Mike Catt - gained unwanted infamy. The only parallel in All Black rugby occurred 25 years earlier, when Bryan Williams bounced around hapless South African defenders. But that was a well kept secret compared to the world impact Lomu had in 1995.

Test rugby had never seen anything to match Lomu, in deeds and profile. At 1.96m and 120kg, he was bigger than most forwards, could run like the wind, and thrilled crowds by taking the short route through defenders.

Lomu rose from the meanest Auckland streets to wow the world with an X-factor the game had never seen before, or since. Had the Loch Ness Monster popped to the surface during the Cup, it may have struggled for the spotlight, such was the fuss around rugby's new monster.

He muddled his way on to the world stage the previous year as the youngest test All Black when Laurie Mains' team were beaten at home by France. Lomu, a junior forward, was chucked in the deep end on the wing and only just kept his head above water.

Mains was concerned about Lomu's fitness levels for the World Cup but the coach could rest easy on that score, unlike the poor blokes expected to mark Lomu. Opposing backs in those days didn't have the strength to deal with Lomu.

Lomu was the perfect specimen, or so we thought. It emerged later he was already affected by a dreadful kidney illness diagnosed just before the tournament began, one to end his career prematurely.

Lomu started the tournament by swatting off a little Irishman named Richard Wallace - everyone was little compared to Lomu - as he scored two tries and created others in the All Blacks' opening assignment in Johannesburg.

This was merely an entree to his famous semifinal deeds against England in Cape Town, a match that will be remembered forever for his scoring rampage.

It took just a few minutes for the carnage to begin. Lomu retrieved a pass that landed behind him, left Tony Underwood and Mike Carling grasping, and dispatched Catt to the mat. Embarrassingly for Catt, Lomu had stumbled before coming upon the hapless fullback, yet still sent him sprawling. It won't rank among the bravest or most technically sound tackles, and if this had been a boxing contest, someone might have uttered the word dive. Never mind - the Lomu legend was on a roll.

Taking on the line of least resistance, in other words the whole English backline, Lomu stormed away for three more tries. What a performance, and a triumphant day for the sport.

The dream came crashing down in the Johannesburg final, a no-try affair remembered best in the way it perfectly fitted the script for a new South Africa emerging from a rotten past. South Africa overcame the odds to beat the tournament's best team, a symbol of optimism and hope for the newly apartheid-free nation.

Lomu, like his teammates, became entangled by South Africa's defence. The backwards diving Catt was a distant memory. South Africa were made of sterner stuff, the All Blacks hampered by illness. Another small opponent for Lomu, James Small, proved more belligerent than his vanquished predecessors.

In retrospect, it was as if two World Cups took place. The first was the real one, and the second was the Jonah Lomu World Cup, such was his impact as the first and probably only global rugby superstar.

Lomu shone in every respect. While a conspiracy theory that emanated out of the All Black camp claimed deliberate food poisoning had nobbled the team in the 1995 final, Lomu counted himself out of that plot.

"If you are fit enough to take the field, then you are fit enough to play," was his admirable stance. He displayed the same sportsmanship in defeat at the next World Cup where once again he was the All Black star.

Legends of the Cup: Part two

1995:
Video: Great World Cup moments - 1995

Setting the scene: The drop goal that helped heal a nation

Doubt and drama on road to '95

Shine of top ref's gold day marred

Tournament action: Springboks' first time unites divided nation

The outcome: Mandela factor unified an emerging nation

How we won it: South Africa - Magic of coaching a world-class team

All Black memories: 'We had the weapons to win it'

Tournament star: Jonah Lomu - The try scoring blitz

Legendary characters of the World Cup

- NZ Herald

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