By WYNNE GRAY
Seven years ago, Jonah Lomu was looking a long way from making it as a permanent All Black, let alone one who would achieve a milestone 50 tests at Carisbrook today.
The teenager transplanted from the forwards to the wing had been uncomfortable in his opening two tests against France and coach Laurie Mains dropped him for the rest of that year. Lomu was so unsettled he thought about reverting to rugby league, the game with which he had grown up.
He was a shy young man and hung his head during brief interviews. It was so difficult being thrust into a limelight he had never encountered before.
But after cajoling from mentor Phil Kingsley Jones and from Mains and others who saw his enormous potential the massive wing got his head round what he needed to do to make it back into test rugby.
Lomu missed the early test in 1995, against Canada, and was still a borderline selection for that year's World Cup as he battled to get to the fitness and concentration levels the selectors demanded at their rigorous training camps.
When he smashed away rugged prop Richard Loe in one session, the selectors knew Lomu was too much of a destructive talent to ignore for the trip to South Africa.
There the legend of Lomu was born.
His impact was immediate and devastating. Two tries at Ellis Park in the opening test against Ireland kickstarted Lomu and the All Blacks' campaign. He was cruelly under-used in the dramatic extra-time loss to the Springboks, but had referee Ed Morrison not ruled a marginal pass to him forward, Lomu would probably have scored a try to win the World Cup.
While the most talked-about dramatics in Lomu's career go back to his steamrollering England in the semifinal, for me his impact in the last Bledisloe Cup match that year was even more profound.
He slaughtered a strong Wallaby side that day in Sydney, created three tries and scored another himself as the All Blacks won 34-23.
It was extraordinary that such a huge man could combine power, speed and balance as strong defenders threw themselves at him.
When his kidney illness became too severe for him to play in 1997 it seemed Lomu's stellar career might be over.
But the way he returned - even with some selection rejections as his form wavered and others, such as Tana Umaga and Jeff Wilson, kept him out of the side - showed his immense determination.
He was the All Blacks' star at the last World Cup. He produced in every test and without him they may not have even got to the semifinals.
Lomu did not play when the All Blacks last played the Wallabies at Carisbrook in 1997 and pummelled them; he was on sick leave. His chance comes today and the team will want to give him some early touches as they have not made the best use of him this season.
Lomu may not be the best wing the All Blacks have ever produced but he is unquestionably the most devastating.
From the shy teenager seven years ago, he has found peace with himself, accepts his celebrity status and today would be just fine to illustrate his sense of occasion.