New Zealand giant Jonah Lomu revolutionized rugby with his steamroller runs, the sport’s leaders and legends have said in reaction to his sudden death at the age of 40.
The All Black winger was remembered for feats such as his four tries against England in the 1995 World Cup semi-final and the way that he barged aside opposing defenders.
World Rugby president Bernard Lapasset and former England manager Clive Woodward both said that Lomu, who was forced out of the game by a chronic kidney disease, had changed the face of the sport.
“He really did take rugby to a whole new level. He was just one of the all time great rugby players, there is absolutely no doubt about that,” Woodward said on BBC radio.
“He was ahead of his time,” Lapasset said. “Jonah Lomu gave an incredible new dimension to the game. He gave an incredible impetus with his driving runs.”
At 1.96 metres and 120 kilograms, rugby had never seen a winger like Lomu when he made his first appearance at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1994. He was soon called up by the full All Blacks side.
“Wingers were normally small, nimble and agile and suddenly you had this huge guy and he was not big and slow, he was big and fast. He was amazing,” said Woodward.
At his peak, Lomu could run 100 metres in 10.8 seconds. His power terrorised opposing defenders.
“We used to give him a huge amount of attention. (We used to think) `OK if we can nullify him we can nullify the All Blacks’,” said Woodward.
Lomu’s former opponents as well as legends of other sports paid tribute to the New Zealander’s prowess as well as his dignity off the field as he battled a kidney disease which forced him to have a transplant.
Former England soccer captain David Beckham described Lomu as “a sporting hero and one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet”.
Lomu made his first international impression at the World Cup in 1995 when he scored a record 15 tries – including the four against England.
Will Carling, the England captain in that thumping 25-3 defeat, said Lomu had been “unstoppable”.
Mike Catt, who was repeatedly trampled over by Lomu in the game, said: “I’m massively sad but the legacy he’s left is incredible.”
Lomu went on to play in a final against South Africa that the home side won 15-12.
“His impact on Rugby World Cup 1995, in particular, was profound. He burst onto the scene with an energy, passion and intensity, the likes of which had never before been witnessed,” said Lapasset.
Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union, added: “Jonah was a simply unbelievable player but, as much as he was a mighty All Black, he had a special place in South African hearts because of the connection we made in 1995.”
Even after illness forced him to give up playing, Lomu launched into charity work and the successful campaign to get rugby sevens into the Olympic Games.