100 Greatest All Blacks - 1st XV: Jonah Lomu

Those of us fortunate enough to watch Jonah Lomu detonate into action at the 1995 World Cup will never forget his impact on the grounds of South Africa.

Nor should those who make their living from professional rugby, a development which was accelerated by Lomu and the impression his feats left on media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

It had been a twisting uncertain path to tournament selection for Lomu and while he made the cut, his body was starting to feel the effects of his debilitating kidney disease.
"I went to the World Cup in '95 knowing I was sick," he later revealed.

No one who watched his dramatic impact twigged, many like Doormat Catt and Tony Underwood will never forget the impact Lomu delivered.

Away from the playing fields, Lomu was assigned some personal protection as his presence at any shopping centre or tourist haunt was a magnet for frenzied hordes to try and touch the young man or get his autograph.

Newspaper editors in New Zealand did not grasp the volume of that adulation until Lomu returned home to be swamped by interest. He was a global superstar and a magnet for Murdoch's ideas.

World Cup advice came from everywhere like the fax from NZ which told the All Blacks: 'Remember rugby is a team game so all 14 of you pass the ball to Jonah.'

"I could play the speed game and the physical game at the World Cup," Lomu said. "I loved the physical game because nine times out of ten I will dominate you. They had to feel the physical side of me first and then I would play a mental game with them."

The World Cup action did not start until 22 minutes for Lomu when he got his first touch. Then he scored twice and churned through defenders like they were cornstalks.


Lomu charges through the tackle of Mike Catt during the 1995 Rugby World Cup semifinal. Ben Radford /Allsport

Rival wing Richard Wallace joked about biting Lomu's toes to stop him, Scotland captain Gavin Hastings talked about the impossible task and oil company Shell offered a tackle bounty to bring down the big man in the final.

The Wallabies did not tangle with Lomu at the World Cup but in Sydney that year, on July 29, they discovered his destructive force. He scored once and set up three other tries in the All Blacks 34-23 victory.

At the time Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer said he had never seen anyone play like Lomu. He has not altered that view.

"His acceleration was enormous. He had top pace, agility, balance and could stand up any defender if they did not get a good shot on him. Physically it was pretty much impossible to contain him all the time.

"Another time I was coaching the Barbarians when Jonah ran down the touchline, grabbed their wing who was trying to tackle him and scored a try carrying this bloke across on his shoulder. It was astonishing."

Health issues cut into Lomu's effectiveness while sides worked out how to keep play away from him or force him to turn on defence. But they could not shut him out forever.

Lomu was an imperious bow wave in the All Blacks 43-6 win in the Athletic Park slushfest against the Wallabies in '96 and tiptoed down the touchline in Sydney for a final move try in 2000 to see off the same rivals 39-35.

The year before he was back to his fearsome best at the World Cup. He scattered another posse of Poms on the way to one try and left a mob of Frenchmen like bewildered skittles as he scored twice in the semifinal.

After France turned that game on its head, Lomu was one of the handful of All Blacks who had the grace to stay and congratulate the winners.

He has maintained that charm in his ongoing health battles and was centre stage at the opening ceremony of the 2011 World Cup when he reminded us of the imposing legacy he kick started all those years ago.

Statistics
Date of birth: 12 May 1975
Position: Left wing
Matches: 73
Tests: 63
Test debut: 26 June 1994 v France, Christchurch
Last test: 23 November 2002 v Wales, Cardiff
Provinces: Counties-Manukau, Wellington
Test tries: 37
Test points: 185

- NZ Herald

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