IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.43 – Jonah Tali Lomu MNZM (1975-2015) Weymouth RFC, Counties-Manukau, Wellington, Auckland Blues, New Zealand and Barbarians
– Born: 12 May, 1975 in Mangere, a neighbourhood of Auckland, New Zealand.
– Died: 18 November, 2015
– Family: Of Tongan descent, Jonah Lomu is one of the five children of Semisi and Hepisipapiu (Hepi) Lomu. He has two younger brothers, John and Talanoa, and two sisters, Sela and Irene. Although born in Auckland, he spent the first five years of his life in Tonga, after which he returned to New Zealand. He is married to Nadene Quirk (his third wife) and they have two sons, Braylee and Dhyreille Lomu. His cousin Andrew Lomu is playing Rugby League in New Zealand, another cousin John Tamanika is now playing rugby union with Randwick in Sydney, after an early career in Rugby League, while a third cousin Seti Kiole is a former Tongan international wing who played for Clermont Auvergne in France.
– Education: Wesley College in Pukekohe, New Zealand.
– Nicknames: Big man, Burger, The bus, The Dark destroyer.
– Profession: Professional rugby player
– Special Merit Award for his contribution to the international Game by the International Rugby Players’ Association (the third player to be awarded the prestigious accolade) in 2003.
– New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2007.
– Elected member of the “Champions for Peace” club in 2010.
– Inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in October 2011 as one of 19 Rugby World Cup founders, pioneers and legends.
– He started playing at school, where he was coached by Amanaki Palavi.
– At college he was coached by Chris Grinter and for five seasons played as a loose forward for the College 1st XV.
– He was a regular in the Counties-Manukau age group teams, playing as a loose forward.
– He played second row for New Zealand Under-17 in both 1991 and 1992.
– Played number eight for New Zealand Secondary Schools in both 1992 and 1993.
– He then played number eight for New Zealand Under-19 in 1993 and Under-21 in 1994.
– In 1994, he made a big impact in the National Sevens tournament in Palmerston North and was selected for the Hong Kong Sevens, where his extraordinary qualities were on display and helped New Zealand win the tournament by beating Australia in the final.
– He made his first-class debut for Counties in the National Provincial Championship (NPC) on the wing in May 1994, and played 28 matches between 1994 and 1999.
– He also played for Wellington (21 matches) and North Harbour (3 matches), the latter when he made a late comeback from illness.
– His second first-class game was the 1994 All Black trial. He was again involved in the trials in 1995, when he was also selected for the North Island and New Zealand.
– He made 59 appearances in the Super 12: 22 for the Blues (1996-1998), eight for the Chiefs (1999) and 29 for the Hurricanes (1999-2003).
– Made his test debut v France in Christchurch on 26 June, 1994.
– His last test for New Zealand was against Wales in Cardiff on 23 November, 2002.
– In his quest to return to match-fitness following a kidney transplant in 2004, Lomu led a World Invitation XV against a Martin Johnson Invitational XV in June 2005. He was injured, which prevented him from fulfilling his North Harbour NPC contract for a year.
– During the New Zealand off-season he went to Wales where he played for Cardiff Blues in several fixtures in the Heineken Cup and Celtic League, before he was injured again.
– In his astonishing fight back to match fitness, Lomu signed for Marseille Vitrolles in France, where he played centre and number eight in 2009.
Career records and highlights
– He made his test debut at the age of 19 years and 45 days, making him the youngest ever player to represent New Zealand.
– He played for the Auckland Blues, who won the inaugural Super 12 title in 1996.
– He made 185 first-class appearances, scoring 122 tries.
– He played 73 matches for New Zealand, of which 63 were tests and 10 tour matches.
– He scored a total of 215 points in the 73 matches he played for New Zealand, of these 185 were scored in test matches.
– With 37 tries in his test career, he was at the time of his induction fifth in the New Zealand all-time try-scoring list behind Doug Howlett, Christian Cullen, Josevata Rokocoko and Jeff Wilson.
– He is the most prolific try-scorer in Rugby World Cup history with 15, having topped the try-scoring charts at RWC 1995 with seven and RWC 1999 with eight.
– The most tries he scored in a single match was four, against England in Cape Town during RWC 1995.
– At the time of his induction in October 2011, he was 17th on rugby’s all-time try-scoring list with 37, behind Serge Blanco with 38 and ahead of Tana Umaga with 36.
– In 1996 he scored one try in each of the two Bledisloe Cup matches to help New Zealand win the trophy.
– He was in the team that won the inaugural Tri Nations title in 1996.
– He missed the 1997 Tri Nations, having being diagnosed with a serious kidney disease – Nephrotic Syndrome – which will eventually had curtailed his career.
– A member of the New Zealand Sevens team which won gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, the first time sevens had featured in the Games.
– He also helped New Zealand win RWC Sevens 2001 in Mar del Plata.
– He made four appearances for the Barbarians, making his debut against Ireland in May 2000. He scored four tries against Scotland on 24 May, 2001 in his second Barbarian appearance and one against England three days later.
What he said
“I always say to people that you have never seen the best of me, and that’s what I mean – I’ve never been fully fit.”
“When I pull on that All Black jersey I feel like Superman.”
“I’m only 34, but in terms of what my body’s been through I’m more like 54. Looking back my whole life seem so surreal. I didn’t just turn up on the doorstep playing rugby. I had to go through a whole lot of things to get there.”
“Rugby’s given me a lot. It’s given me a will to live, a drive. Through the sickness it gave me the strength to solve problems. When you’re in your deepest darkest hole you think you can’t get out of, you find a way to get out. You can get deep dark holes in Test matches and you’ve got to climb your way out of them. It may not come until the 78th minute, but you will fight for it. And that’s what I take from rugby, and hence why I want to give back to it.”
“My greatest regret as a player is that I never had the opportunity to compete for a gold medal at the Olympic Games … I wanted to be there. I would have been proud to call myself an Olympian and speaking to rugby players from all corners of the world it is a sentiment that is echoed from New Zealand to Brazil, South Africa to China and everywhere in between.”
“My mother is the only person I’m scared of. She clips me around the ear if I get too big for my boots.”
“For me it was about knowing that I’d been given a God-given talent and not wasting it. I think everyone has a pure, natural talent. The responsibility on the individual is to grow with it and enhance it. I guess that’s what separates the ordinary from the elite.”
“Tonga runs deep in me, like still waters…You can’t escape your roots. It’s like a calling and it’s shaped the way I am. Tonga is a beautiful place.”
What they said
Lindsay Knight (NZ rugby writer, NZ Rugby Museum profile): “Statistics don’t do full justice to the impact Lomu made in New Zealand and world rugby. But they do illustrate the contrasts in his career between his two magnificent World Cup years and the rest.”
Will Carling (after the RWC 1995 Cape Town semi-final humiliation): “He is a freak, and the sooner he goes away the better.”
Phil Kingsley-Jones (his manager, before RWC 1999): “He is the same weight as before the last World Cup (1995) and he is looking magnificent. He looks like if you try to hammer a nail into him, you couldn’t.”
Chris Hewett (Rugby writer, The Independent, London): “Jonah Lomu tells precious few stories about his past, but this one is a favourite. He invites you to imagine him as a poor, none-too-innocent Polynesian kid of 13, who spends his empty days hanging around the meanest streets in New Zealand. A mugger spots him sitting alone on a pavement in Mangere East, a particularly volatile district of south Auckland, and orders him to hand over his shoes. Lomu slowly raises himself from the floor ... and keeps on rising until he towers over his would-be assailant. The mugger staggers backwards, says something along the lines of ‘Sorry, I’ve changed my mind’ and disappears into the distance.”
Phil Kingsley-Jones (his manager, after RWC 1999): “I have a lot of options for Jonah. But we will not lose his quality of life for money. He wants the right challenge, the right package and that’s not just about money, though I have to maximise his potential.”
Lindsay Knight (NZ rugby writer in NZ Rugby Museum profile): “Considering that for most of his playing days Lomu was under a severe health handicap it is really remarkable that he achieved so much. His illness has also made it a little more understandable that very often Lomu struggled to get anywhere near the exalted heights he reached in his two glory seasons of 1995 and 1999. But in each of those Lomu was sensational, with a physical presence no one has ever quite managed before or since.”
Paul Ackford (Former England player and rugby writer in The Daily Telegraph): “For some, the iconic moment in rugby is the one where Jonny Wilkinson swung his boot in the final seconds of extra time in Sydney to send a ball swinging through the posts and a nation into ecstasy. For me, that moment occurred eight years earlier, when Jonah Lomu scored the first of his four tries against England in a World Cup semi final in Cape Town. I was sitting in the Newlands stands at the time and the realisation that rugby would never be the same was gut-wrenching.”
Chris Hewett (Rugby writer, The Independent, London): “Four years ago in Cape Town on a warm World Cup semi-final afternoon at the intimate and intimidating Newlands Stadium, 15 white-shirted Englishmen were not in the happy position of being able to disappear, much to their collective chagrin. They had no option but to accept the punishment being dished out by a 6ft 5in, 19-stone All Black wing as he produced what is still considered to be the single most extraordinary individual performance in the 128-year history of international rugby union. In the opinion of Jeremy Guscott, one of the few English players of his generation whose fame transcends the confines of his sport, ‘Jonah was born that day’.”
*Profile correct at time of induction