Jonah Lomu

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Jonah Lomu
Jonah Lomu (cropped).jpg
Full name Jonah Tali Lomu
Date of birth (1975-05-12)12 May 1975
Place of birth Pukekohe, South Auckland, New Zealand[1]
Date of death 18 November 2015(2015-11-18) (aged 40)
Place of death Auckland, New Zealand
Height 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in)
Weight 119 kg (262 lb; 18.7 st)
School Wesley College, Auckland[2]
Notable relative(s) Andrew Lomu, John Tamanika, Seti Kiole
Rugby union career
Playing career
Position Left wing
New Zealand No. 941
Professional / senior clubs
Years Club / team Caps (points)
Cardiff Blues
Wainuiomata RFC
Provincial/State sides
Years Club / team Caps (points)
North Harbour
Counties Manukau
correct as of 9 September 2006.
Super Rugby
Years Club / team Caps (points)
correct as of 9 September 2006.
National team(s)
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1994–2002 New Zealand 63 (185)
correct as of 7 March 2008.
Sevens national teams
Years Club / team Comps
1994–2001 New Zealand

Jonah Tali Lomu, MNZM (12 May 1975 – 18 November 2015) was a New Zealand rugby union player.[3] He was the youngest ever All Black when he played his first international in 1994 at the age of 19 years and 45 days.[4] Lomu finished with 63 caps and scored 37 international tries. He has been described as the first true global superstar of rugby union[5] and as having a huge impact on the game.[6] Lomu was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame on 9 October 2007,[7] and the IRB Hall of Fame on 24 October 2011.[8]

Lomu burst onto the international rugby scene during the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens tournament. He was widely acknowledged to be the top player at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa even though New Zealand lost the final to the host Springboks. At one time Lomu was considered 'rugby union's biggest drawcard',[9] swelling attendances at any match where he appeared. He is one of the Rugby World Cup all-time top try scorers with 15 tries, a record he shares with Bryan Habana of South Africa.[10]

He played for several domestic teams, in the Super Rugby, NPC and later the Magners League competitions. These included the Auckland Blues, Chiefs and Hurricanes, and Counties Manukau, Wellington and later North Harbour and Cardiff Blues. He made a comeback after undergoing a kidney transplant in 2004, finally retiring from professional rugby in 2007. He died suddenly on 18 November 2015.

Early career[edit]

New Zealand sevens star Eric Rush played a touch game with Lomu when he was 14 years old and was so impressed he invited him to a sevens tournament in Singapore the next day.[11] As a youngster however, Lomu first played rugby league.[12] His introduction to rugby union came through a tournament in Te Kuiti where he stayed with Glyn Meads, son of famous All Black Colin Meads.[12]

Lomu started his rugby union career in the forwards, mostly as an openside flanker (no.7), sometimes to the blindside (no.6),[13][14] before switching to the left wing in what he described as the "best move he could have made".[15] He represented New Zealand in the national under-19 side in 1993, as well as the under-21 side the following year.[16] He first came to international attention at the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens tournament as part of a team including Rush.[17]

At the age of 19 years and 45 days, Lomu became the youngest All Black test player as he debuted on the wing against France in 1994, breaking a record that had been held by Edgar Wrigley since 1905.[16] The match was played at Lancaster Park in Christchurch, and the All Blacks lost 22–8. The second match was played at Eden Park in Auckland with France winning again, 23–20. Lomu marked Emile N'tamack and admits that his inexperience led to him being exposed by the French team.[15]

1995 World Cup[edit]

Despite having just two All Black caps, Lomu was included in the squad for the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. Lomu scored seven tries in five matches, two in the first match against Ireland in Johannesburg, a try in the quarter final against Scotland at Loftus Versfeld, and four tries in the semi-final against England at Newlands. The first try in the English match occurred after Lomu received a pass behind him, beat two defenders and then, after a stumble, ran straight over the top of Mike Catt.[18] This reduced one New Zealand commentator, Keith Quinn, to gasps.[19] After the game, England captain Will Carling said: "He is a freak and the sooner he goes away the better".[20] In 2002 the UK public voted Lomu's performance no. 19 in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments[21] and has been voted the try of the tournament.[22] New Zealand played the World Cup final at Ellis Park against South Africa.[23] Neither side scored a try, with South Africa coming out on top 15–12 after kicking a drop-goal in extra time.


Following the World Cup New Zealand played Australia home and away for the Bledisloe Cup with Lomu scoring tries in both matches.[24] Lomu's scoring for New Zealand continued later that year when he scored two tries in the All Blacks victory over Italy in Bologna.[25] Lomu played in a losing effort against France in Toulouse, where New Zealand failed to score any tries.[26] He scored a try in the second test in Paris, helping his team to victory. Lomu played for the All Blacks in matches against the touring Samoa[27] and Scotland teams in June 1996, scoring in one of the Scottish matches.[28]

Just before the World Cup final a deal was struck between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia (SANZAR) to create the Tri-Nations, an annual round robin competition between the three nations launched with the advent of professionalism in rugby.[29] New Zealand won all their games to become the first Tri-Nations winners.[30] Lomu scored a try in a 43–6 victory over Australia in the inaugural match, which has been described by New Zealand Herald journalist David Leggat as "the perfect wet-weather game".[31]

Medal record
Commonwealth Games
Gold medal – first place 1998 Kuala Lumpur Rugby sevens

At the end of 1996, he was diagnosed with a rare and serious kidney disorder, which saw him take time off from the sport.[32] As a result he did not play in the 1997 Tri Nations Series, but he was included in the All Blacks tour of the northern hemisphere at the end of the year. Lomu played in the two warm up matches, scoring tries against Wales 'A' and Emerging England. He played the first test against England at Old Trafford, as well as the test against Wales at Wembley Stadium, and the second match against England—he did not score in any of the three games.

At the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, he won a gold medal representing New Zealand in the Sevens Rugby event.[33] The English rugby team came to New Zealand the following year for a two test series. Lomu played in both of the matches, scoring in the first, which was a 64–22 win in Dunedin, but not in the second test won 40–10 by the All Blacks.

1999 and the World Cup[edit]

Lomu's 1999 international season kicked off with a warm-up match against New Zealand A, which was followed by a game against Samoa in which Lomu scored one of the All Blacks' nine tries. He came on as a replacement in every game of the 1999 Tri Nations Series with Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga preferred as starters on the wings.[34][35][36][37] New Zealand were crowned Tri Nations champions despite losing the last game against Australia.

Lomu scored eight tries at the 1999 World Cup. In pool matches he scored two tries against Tonga, one against England and two against Italy. The All Blacks, finished top of their pool and proceeded to the quarter-finals. They defeated Scotland, with Lomu scoring one of New Zealand's four tries. Lomu scored twice in the semi-final match against France, though it was not enough to see them through to the final as France went on to win 43–31.[38] Following the World Cup, despite speculation that he would be moving to play American Football in the National Football League or stay to play rugby in the English Premiership, Lomu returned to New Zealand.[39]

End of international career[edit]

Jonah Lomu in training in 2001

Lomu started 2000 with big victories over Tonga and Scotland.[40] The opening match of the 2000 Tri Nations Series was played in front of a record crowd of 109,874 and has been labelled the "match of the century'.'[41][42] New Zealand scored three tries in the first five minutes to lead by 21 points, before Australia came back, leveling the scores beforehalf time. With minutes remaining, the Wallabies led 35 to 34; until Lomu "brushed past a desperate Stephen Larkham to tip-toe down the line and score the winning try".[43] The match was followed by a victory over South Africa, and then a re-match with Australia, which Australia won 24 to 23. New Zealand lost the final game to South Africa finishing second on the table, behind Australia.[44] Lomu played in one other test that year; against France at Stade de France in November, which the All Blacks won 39 to 26.

Lomu was part of the New Zealand Sevens team that won the 2001 Sevens World Cup, filling in for Rush, who suffered a broken leg during the competition.[45][46] In the lead up to the 2001 Tri Nations Series, the All Blacks played Argentina and France at home, Lomu scoring a try in the French match.[47] After a try-less opening victory against South Africa Lomu played his 50th test for the All Blacks at the Carisbrook 'House of Pain', scoring a try in the second minute of play.[48] The Wallabies spoiled the party however, winning 23 to 15. This was followed by a win over South Africa, and loss to the Wallabies at Stadium Australia.[49]

During the 1999 off season, Lomu transferred to Wellington, signing up with second division club Wainuiomata RFC. Lomu played his debut match against Northern United scoring twice and attracting a bumper crowd and followed that up with a further appearance in 2001. Lomu wore the green and black club socks when he played for the Barbarian F.C. in 2000.

At the end of the year, the All Blacks played Ireland at Lansdowne Road in Dublin. Lomu was a central figure in the 40 to 29 win, setting up Aaron Mauger for his debut try, and taking an inside pass to blast through for one of his own.[50] The All Blacks end of season tour continued at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, where they defeated Scotland 37 to six, with Lomu contributing one try. In the final match of the tour, the All Blacks played Argentina at the River Plate Stadium. Lomu put the All Blacks in front with a try after Argentina took an early lead. New Zealand won the match by a score of 24 to 20.[51]

In his first test of 2002, he came off the bench in the second half to score a try in a match against Italy.[52] He was again injected into play from the bench in the first of a two test series against Ireland in New Zealand; helping New Zealand to an uninspiring win.[53] Lomu was back starting on the left wing for the second test against the Irish, which New Zealand won 40–8.[54] Lomu did not score in the subsequent match against Fiji; in performance that was labelled "disappointing" by Matthew Cooper after he was beaten on the outside for Fiji's first try.[55] Lomu came off the bench in the All Blacks first game of the 2002 Tri Nations Series against South Africa, though he did not play in the rest of the tournament.[56]

He returned to the wing for a game against England in November 2002. Lomu ended up scoring two tries, though it was not enough to secure a New Zealand victory, with England winning 31–28.[57] The subsequent match against France resulted in a draw, the first between the two nations in 96 years. The last match of the end of season tour was against Wales, which the All Blacks won 43–17.[58] These were the last international matches that Lomu would play for New Zealand as his illness worsened and he needed a kidney transplant.[59]


Jonah Lomu playing for Cardiff in 2006

Lomu returned to professional rugby in 2005. He first needed special clearance from the World Anti-Doping Agency, as one of the anti-rejection drugs he was required to take is on the WADA list of banned substances.[60] On 8 April 2005, he signed a two-year contract to play for the New Zealand first division provincial team North Harbour in the NPC.[61] He ended up missing the first season when he injured his shoulder scoring a try in a preseason testimonial match against Martin Johnson's invitational XV.[62] Instead he worked in a coaching capacity.[63] North Harbour gave him permission to play overseas at the Cardiff Blues over the off season.[64] Lomu made his first appearance in a competitive match since his transplant on 10 December 2005, with a 60 minute effort in Cardiff's away Heineken Cup fixture against Italian club Calvisano. Lomu scored his first try for Cardiff on 27 December, with a man-of-the-match performance during a 41–23 win against the Newport Gwent Dragons. He spent the early part of 2006 sidelined while he concentrated on gaining speed and strength[65] not playing again until April. He broke his ankle near the end of his first game back, ending his season with Cardiff.

He returned to North Harbour for the 2006 NPC season,[66] playing for Massey against Marist in the North Harbour club competition. For Lomu it was "a small step"[67] towards his aim of reclaiming his All Blacks jersey for the 2007 World Cup. Lomu played for North Harbour in round four of the National Provincial Championship against Wellington winning 31–16. Lomu said after the match "For me it's a dream come true... I've always said this is my goal—to come back and play in New Zealand." Lomu failed to get a Super Rugby contract, effectively dashing any hopes of making the World Cup squad.[68] Lomu stated that he was disappointed by his failure to gain a Super 14 contract, but that he had not failed himself.[68]

Lomu was offered a contract with the Gold Coast Titans, a new Queensland franchise in the National Rugby League competition, but turned it down as it would have been difficult to reconcile his sponsorship contracts with companies associated with rugby union.[69]


Lomu retired from professional rugby in 2007, but still took part in some charity matches. He was going to play in the Help For Heroes charity match at Twickenham in 2008, but had to withdraw after injuring his ankle in training.[70] Later that year Lomu played in a charity match at Aberavon RFC's Talbot Athletic grounds to raise money for a local children's charity. The match was covered by the BBC rugby show Scrum V.[71]

In September 2009, Lomu took part in an amateur bodybuilding contest, finishing second in two categories, including the men's open over-90 kg, and the mixed pairs. He joined French Fédérale 1 team Marseille Vitrolles in November,[72] making his debut in a 64-13 victory over against Montmelian.[73] Lomu started the match at centre then moved to number 8, the position he played as a youngster in New Zealand.

Lomu also made an attempt to take part in a charity boxing event in New Zealand called "Fight for Life" 2011, for which he was the intended captain of the rugby union team. It was his intention to fight the main event against former league player Monty Betham. On 14 November Lomu pulled out of the competition as he had just recently been hospitalised for over a week due to his failing kidney.[74]


International tries[edit]

Lomu scored tries against every major test playing nation in World Rugby except South Africa (12 matches) and Wales (3 matches).[75] In his career, Lomu scored eight tries against England—more than any other All Black. Lomu set a record of 15 tries in World Cup tournaments, which was equalled by South African Bryan Habana in 2015.[76]

International analysis by opposition[edit]

Against Played Won Lost Drawn Tries Points  % Won
 South Africa
Total 63 44 17 2 37 185 69.84

Playing Style[edit]

Lomu had a unique combination of power, size and speed that made him devastating with the ball in hand.[77] He weighed 120 kg and was 1.96 metres tall, but could run 100 metres in 10.8 seconds.[78] He ran with a low centre of gravity and was the best exponent at bumping off attempted tackles in the game.[77] He also had a powerful fend and subtle body swerve.[77] He generally stayed out on his wing,[79] but would occasionally replace Zinzan Brooke at the back of the scrum if the All Blacks wanted more power.[80]

Personal life[edit]

Waxwork of Lomu in Madame Tussauds London

Lomu was born in Pukekohe on 12 May 1975. He spent some of his early childhood in Tonga with family before returning to South Auckland when his parents divorced and Jonah became estranged to his father until 2008,[81] and lived in Māngere.[82] There he was exposed to gang violence losing an uncle and a cousin to attacks. This led his mother to send him to Wesley College.[83]

In 1996, Lomu married South African Tanya Rutter and they lived together in New Zealand for four years before divorcing, in which his family never approved. He married his second wife Fiona in a secret ceremony on Waiheke Island in August 2003, holding a party on the island a week later.[84] In 2008, Lomu and Fiona divorced after he had an affair with Nadene Quirk.[85] Lomu and Nadene later married in 2011 and at the time of his death he was living with Nadene and their children, Brayley and Dhyreille.[80][86]

Lomu was a member of the Champions for Peace club,[87] a group of 54 famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport, created by Peace and Sport, a Monaco-based international organisation.[88] In 2012, Lomu and Nadene became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[89]

In 1996, McDonald's New Zealand named a burger after Lomu, temporarily rebranding the McFeast burger line (called "Mega Feast" in New Zealand) as the "Jonah Burger".[90]

On 9 April 2007, Lomu appeared on New Zealand's version of This Is Your Life, in which he was reunited with long time friend Grant Kereama, who had donated a kidney to Lomu when he underwent a kidney transplant in July 2004.[91]

Health issues[edit]

At the end of 1995 Lomu was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a serious kidney disorder. His rugby union career went on hold whilst the disorder was treated. In May 2003, the NZRFU announced that Lomu had been put on dialysis three times a week due to deterioration in his kidney function. Side effects of Lomu's dialysis treatment led to severe nerve damage in his feet and legs; his doctors warned him that he faced life in a wheelchair if a kidney transplant was not performed soon.[92] At the end of July 2004 it was reported that Lomu had indeed undergone a kidney transplant on Tuesday, 28 July, in Auckland, New Zealand. The kidney was donated by Wellington radio presenter Grant Kereama.[93]

Lomu's vital statistics have been cited as an example of the problematic use of Body Mass Index as a measure of obesity.[94] Lomu had a BMI of 32, in excess of the value of 30 usually taken to signify obesity.[94]


On the morning of 18 November 2015, Lomu died unexpectedly in Auckland.[95] The previous night he had returned from the United Kingdom with his family after a short holiday stay in Dubai. Lomu had been receiving dialysis treatments during his visit to Britain where he was involved in heavy promotional work during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.[3][96] His first public service was held in his home church in Māngere, Auckland, with Lomu's surviving family members in attendance.[82] Two public services were held at Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau on 28 November 2015, and at Eden Park on 30 November 2015, a day before a private service.[97]


Before 1995, wingers were generally fast and good on their feet.[22] Lomu was the first truly massive wing, a trend that has now become standard in many teams.[22][77]

Lomu has been described as the first true global superstar of rugby union[5] and as having a huge impact on the game,[6] with comparisons being drawn with Muhammad Ali, Don Bradman and Tiger Woods.[77] At one time he was considered 'rugby union's biggest drawcard',[9] as his appearance at a match would increase attendance.[98]

Lomu was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame on 9 October 2007,[7] and the IRB Hall of Fame on 24 October 2011.[8] He was appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours list on 4 June 2007.[99]

Lomu lent his name to various video games including Jonah Lomu Rugby[100] and Rugby Challenge.[101] He is portrayed by Isaac Fe'aunati in Invictus,[102] a film chronicling Nelson Mandela's journey with the South African rugby team in the 1995 World Cup.[103]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Phil Shirley "Blood & Thunder The unofficial biography of Jonah Lomu" Harper Collins Publishers London ISBN 0-00-274028-1
  • Lomu, Jonah, (2004). Jonah Lomu Autobiography, Headline Book Pub Ltd, (ISBN 0-7553-1263-5)

External links[edit]