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All Black legend Jonah Lomu has split from his wife, Fiona - but the couple say their marriage is not over.

They say they are taking time out from each other because, "like any other couple", they are experiencing personal challenges.

A spokeswoman for the Lomus, Bridget Abernethy, said: "This is a very personal issue, and one they had hoped to be able to work through privately. It is a very difficult time for them, and they ask the media and public to respect their need for privacy."

The couple had been forced to make a public statement because of persistent questioning from a women's magazine, Ms Abernethy said.

"They felt they had no choice but to make a statement so friends and family around the world would hear it from them first," she said.

"They, like any other couple, experience personal challenges and they are taking time out from one another to work through these.

"They want to be clear that their marriage has not ended."

Lomu married the Ponsonby marketing executive in secret on Waiheke Island in August 2003.

The occasion hit the headlines for the wrong reasons - his family spoke out about their hurt and anger at not being invited to the ceremony.

It was the second marriage for the former All Black.

His family were also not invited in 1996, when Lomu, then aged 20, married 19-year-old South African Tanya Rutter, whom he met while on tour with the All Blacks.

The couple wed in a St Patrick's Day ceremony on the shores of the Manukau Harbour.

The relationship fell apart two years later and Lomu said in his autobiography that he was too young to marry.

"I was 20 years old, she was 19 - and I thought, 'Yeah, this is the real thing!' "

He later got engaged during a four-year relationship with Teina Stace.

Fiona Lomu has stood by her husband during his battle with the serious kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome, which resulted in his having a kidney transplant.

She has been his manager since he split from long-time agent Phil Kingsley Jones.

In July this year, Jonah Lomu revealed that he still wanted to return to competitive rugby.

But he admitted that a return to the All Black jersey he wore 73 times as a winger from 1994 was little more than a dream.

Lomu was spotted training with the Warriors league team this week.

Warriors spokesman Richard Becht said Lomu was a frequent visitor at trainings and games.

"He's been training with the boys this season and was here quite a bit this year before he went to the Rugby World Cup."