Wallaby foe Tune pays tribute to Lomu

It was a surprise gesture from Jonah Lomu and it meant the world to Ben Tune.

Former Wallabies winger Tune, who played in a golden era for Australia – including the 1999 World Cup-winning side – was one of the few opponents in world rugby who the legendary Lomu couldn’t dominate.

While Lomu was a feared opponent, it was off the field where the giant New Zealander made the biggest impression on Tune.

“I’ll never forget him taking the time to travel from New Zealand to attend my retirement lunch in Brisbane (in 2007),” Tune said.

“That was on his own time and his own dime and it meant a hell of a lot to me. I thought it was really special from such a great player and a guy who is respected so much. It meant the world to me.”

Tune, like many in the rugby and wider sporting communities, was reeling from news of Lomu’s sudden death on Wednesday at age 40.

“It came as a real shock. It’s very sad news,” he said.

“He was arguably the most devastating rugby player on the planet and probably the most devastating that ever will be.”

With Tune the established, blockbusting right winger for the Wallabies and Lomu the often unstoppable force on the left wing for New Zealand, the pair were key figures in the trans-Tasman rivalry of their era, a period when Australia enjoyed domination.

“To be that big, that fast and that agile, he was just devastating,” said Tune.

“The only way you could really combat him was to try to get a hold of him early because, once he got some steam up, he was nearly impossible to tackle.

Fortunately for the Wallabies, the combative Tune relished the task of containing arguably the world’s greatest winger.

“A lot of players could talk themselves out of tackling him before they got on the field, so mindset was very important.

“I tried to really be offensive. In terms of tackling, I made sure when he got the ball, he got me with it.

“A lot of players would say they didn’t enjoy playing him but I really enjoyed it because it was such a huge task and challenge.

“By keeping him quiet, you could turn a game.”

While fierce rivals on field, Tune’s admiration for Lomu grew after their careers ended, including seeing how he handled his long-running battle with a rare kidney illness.

He was among the special guests when NZ television did a version of This Is Your Life on Lomu in 2007.

“The way he battled his disease for years and years has inspired so many people who have struggled with anything in life,” said Tune, who is an ambassador for beyondblue.

“It wasn’t until I got to know him, once we’d both retired, that I started to really respect him off the field as well.

“He loved his hotted up cars which I did too.

“He was a very good guy.”

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