New Zealand paid tribute to All Blacks great Jonah Lomu at the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby on Monday, with thousands of fans packing a memorial service at Auckland’s Eden Park.
A Maori mourning chant echoed around the stadium as All Black legends including Michael Jones and Frank Bunce carried a black casket containing Lomu’s body onto the field.
Lomu’s wife Nadene and sons Brayley, six, and Dhyreille, five, wearing black shirts with the winger’s number 11, followed with heads bowed.
Lomu’s career was cut short by chronic kidney disease and he died unexpectedly at his Auckland home this month aged just 40.
The ceremony, which will be followed by a private funeral on Tuesday, was broadcast live by all major television stations in New Zealand, where Lomu was a beloved figure even among those too young to have seen him play.
Eden Park was a happy hunting ground for the player, who appeared in six Tests at the ground and won five of them.
Former All Blacks coach John Hart said there could be no better place to say farewell to the legend.
“We’ve chosen Eden Park because it’s the spiritual home of rugby and somewhere that Jonah loved so much,” he said.
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset made the 18,000 kilometre (11,000 mile) trip from France to pay his respects to a man he said helped bring the sport into the professional era.
“He’s an icon in rugby and I have to represent all the fans that Jonah had in the world,” he said.
“This fantastic man delivered a very great message about rugby to the world.”
Since Lomu’s death, tributes have poured in from across the rugby world, with many current players recalling how he inspired them to take up the game.
Such was his fame that condolences also came from beyond the sport, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, British footballer David Beckham and Hollywood star Morgan Freeman.