I've only been booed off stage at a rugby club once. It was in the late 1990s in the South Island.
After making a speech I was taking questions from the audience. Who, asked a rugged-looking farmer, was the greatest All Black I'd ever seen? I said I had to divide the answer to this into best forward and best back.
The best forward was Colin Meads (keep in mind this was at a time when Richie McCaw was still at school). There was a round of enthusiastic applause. The best back was Jonah Lomu. The silence that followed was broken by a voice from the back calling, "Bull****!" Booing then broke out. I thanked them all for their time and scurried off stage.
This week as a cricket spectator at Hagley Oval I was asked the same "greatest All Black" question by a friendly cricket fan, who was a Iittle puzzled, but more polite than the rugby club audience, when I stuck with Lomu as the greatest back.
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I agree with our only unbeaten All Black coach, Sir Fred Allen, who a decade ago, when we had a "best ever All Black" conversation, firmly backed Dan Carter for his all-round skills. As Fred pointed out, Carter was the complete footballer.
But I'd still argue that Lomu had even more influence on global rugby than Carter. For years after the 1995 World Cup, Jonah was a name you'd hear from a rental car clerk in Las Vegas ("How's your man Jonah's health," I was asked in 2000) to a taxi driver in London ("How big is that bloody Lomu?" asked a cabbie during the 1999 World Cup). In Europe and even in America he transcended the game in the way Muhammad Ali would transcend boxing.
And, in the brief, golden periods when Lomu was in full health on the rugby field, he was, like Ali, the greatest.
It'll soon be 25 years since Lomu ran onto Ellis Park for the first game of the '95 Cup, with the All Blacks playing Ireland.
By the time the tournament was over the then 20-year-old would be a household name in England, a target for American football clubs, and the first All Black to have a story written about him in Time magazine. Lomu was the man all South Africans wanted to meet.
President Nelson Mandela was introduced to the players before the final. Before rugby officials could say the name, when he got to Lomu his famous smile beamed, his hand shot out, and he said, "Hi Jonah, nice to meet you."
Most importantly for the sport, in New York, billionaire media tycoon Rupert Murdoch saw him on television and told Sam Chisholm, his man negotiating a US$555 million rugby television deal with South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, "We've got to have that guy."
Would there have been professional rugby without Lomu? Almost certainly. But did he speed up the process, give the game a previously unheard of worldwide boost, and up the financial ante? Hell, yes.
No player has ever dominated a World Cup the way Lomu did in 1995.
In that first game against Ireland he scored two tries, then ran 70 metres, swatting aside four tacklers, and, when the fifth managed to halt him on the line, popped the ball up to flanker Josh Kronfeld for a try that would later be judged by an IRB panel the best of the tournament. The All Blacks won 43-19.
Four days later Wales were dispatched, 34-9. Lomu didn't score a try, but he set up one for Kronfeld again, this time bashing through five tacklers in the process.
He was rested for the 145-17 rout of Japan, but, on June 11 at Ellis Park, it was quarter-final time, against Scotland. By then Lomumania had gripped South Africa, and the rugby world.
Scotland's captain Gavin Hastings was asked for his views on the new star. A charming man with a droll sense of humour, he deadpanned: "He's a big bastard isn't he?"
Against Scotland, Lomu did something different again. On the flinty ground at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria he twice ran such a fast outside line it left the poor Scottish right wing, Craig Joiner, looking as if his sprigs have been screwed into the sun-scorched turf. Lomu scored, and the All Blacks won 48-30.
On a sunny Cape Town Sunday during the All Blacks' 45-29 win over England in a semifinal comes the moment that cemented Lomu as a national figure in Britain.
Straight after the kickoff is knocked on by England captain Will Carling, the All Blacks attack from the scrum. Fullback Glen Osborne's pass to Lomu falls behind him, but he just has time to pick it up and head for the line.
In his 2004 book, "Jonah", Lomu describes what happens. "Look out, here's Tony Underwood coming in for the hit. Misses. Spins. Goal-line ahead. Not far now. Around the outside of (Will) Carling. Damn. He's clipped me. Stumbling. Keep your balance Jonah. Get your balance. Look up. Mike Catt. Two strides. No option. Shoulder in my vision. Get your knee up Jonah. Bang. Into him. Over him. Through him. Sorry Mike." Catt was left, as one English writer says, "like roadkill in a white jersey."
On TVNZ commentator Keith Quinn lost it. He'd prepared for a Lomu try, and even had a phrase he'd borrowed from an NBA basketball writer, "all muscle and pump", written down and ready to use. In the excitement the paper was knocked off his desk, and all he could gasp out was, "Oh. Oh. Oh. Lomu."
The final, at Ellis Park, wasn't a Hollywood ending for Lomu. Let's not revisit too much the gastric illness that struck down nine out of the 15 starting All Blacks in the days before that warm Saturday afternoon, but between some listless-looking All Blacks, and an inspired South African side, Lomu, for the only time at the World Cup, couldn't shred defensive lines. South Africa won in extra time, 15-12.
So, seven tries in five World Cup games, but no gold medal, why do I still think so highly of Lomu? Let me offer some thoughts.
One. For a wing he was a giant, and would still be considered so if he was playing now, at 1.96m (6ft 5in) and 120kg. But he was also stunningly fast. As a schoolboy at Wesley College he was timed over the 100 metres at 10.89s. "I've seen players that big before," said his '95 All Black manager, Colin Meads, "but they were all forwards. I've never seen anyone Jonah's size who had his speed."
Two. He had what coaches call soft hands, able to hold even an awkward pass, and terrific balance. Even much later in his career, when he was secretly battling kidney disease, he could score tries no other wing could hope to. In 2000 in Sydney, when the All Blacks won, 39-35, in what opposing Wallaby captain John Eales told me was the greatest test he ever played in, Lomu would tip toe down the sideline to score the try to seal the match. "Who else but Jonah," said All Black captain Todd Blackadder years later, "would have scored that try?" Indeed.
Three. He was no flat-track bully. At the 1999 World Cup, when France beat the All Blacks 43-21 at Twickenham in the semifinal, Lomu was the best All Black on the field. He scored his second try of that game just after halftime, by smashing aside one of the biggest, toughest French forwards, the rugged Moroccan Abdel Benazzi.
Four. He was, in his own words, a Southsider, a kid from Māngere, who'd buy a car with a sound system so loud I once heard the bass booming long before I saw him driving down the street to the All Blacks' hotel. For some stiff-necked old-schoolers it was all a bit too much, and he was sometimes judged more harshly as a player than someone from rugby's traditional heartlands would have been.
Five. He was a good man. The last time I saw him was in 2014, a year before he died, at a monster truck show at Waikaraka Park. He loved large, noisy machines, and was acting as a PR man for one of the drivers.
The damage illness had wrought on the rampaging player of his youth was clear. He moved slowly and carefully. My final memory was of him gently shaking hands with my then 3-year-old grandson Cooper, telling him to enjoy the day. It's beyond sad that Jonah himself would have so few left in his life. But for some of us the memories will last forever.