Jonah Lomu will be remembered as one of rugby’s greatest ever stars after changing the game forever, according to his former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick.
The retired New Zealand winger’s death at the age of just 40 on Wednesday has left fans across the globe shocked.
Lomu, who scored 37 tries in 63 Test matches, had suffered from health problems since his retirement from the game in 2002 due to a rare kidney disease. He died after suddenly collapsing just hours after returning from a trip to Dubai.
He is best remembered for his impact on the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when he scored seven tries, including four in a devastating semi-final display against England.
Former New Zealand captain Fitzpatrick told Sky Sports News: “He was the first global superstar. Everyone wanted to be Jonah Lomu.
“The way the game changed was because of the way he played. He will go down as one of the greatest.”
Then-England fullback Mike Catt was the man Lomu famously trampled over during his semi-final blitz but he paid his own heartfelt tribute.
“I’m massively sad but the legacy he’s left is incredible,” Catt told englandrugby.com.
“He’s inspired millions of people around the world to watch the sport and start playing. He changed rugby union during the 1995 World Cup.
“His ability to move 18 stone was amazing. He didn’t want to run through people every time, but he did have that ability and his footwork and speed off the mark was second to none, you just couldn’t get near the guy. But if he needed to run through four of you he could.”
He retired from the game in 2007, the year he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He also joined the IRB Hall of Fame four years later.
“He could have played in any position he wanted to on the field. It was (former All Blacks coach) Laurie Mains who decided to play him on the wing,” former teammate Zinzan Brooke told the BBC.
“It’s amazing what he did in that ’95 World Cup. He launched himself on the international scene and changed the way the game was played in an instant.”
Former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew, who also acted as a personal doctor to Lomu, insisted his former patient was in “pretty good shape” prior to his death.
“Jonah has been in pretty good shape, he arrived back from Dubai yesterday and unfortunately suddenly collapsed and died at home this morning,” he told New Zealand television.
“He has been a fantastic person and a great friend, I have been his doctor for a long time. It’s staggering, a very sad day.”