"Remember rugby is a team game so all 14 of you pass the ball to Jonah"
November 17, 2015 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Former New Zealand rugby winger Jonah Lomu has died of cardiac arrest aged 40.

Born in South Auckland of Tongan descent, Lomu was the youngest ever All Black. He scored 37 tries in 63 matches for the All Blacks , placing him 6th on the team's all-time scoring list. This record is more notable as his performance was affected by the kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome, leading him to have a kidney transplant in 2004, which his body subsequently rejected in 2011.

He had spent the last months of his life doing promotional work at the Rugby World Cup in England, and had been involved in charity work after his retirement. His first try against England in the 1995 edition was recently voted the greatest moment of the world cup, having earlier been nominated as the 19th best sporting moment of all time by viewers of the UK's Channel 4. Although he never won the tournament, he is one of the top scorers in World Cup history with 15 tries. An often-repeated story tells of the fax received by the All Blacks during the 1995 edition: "Remember rugby is a team game so all 14 of you pass the ball to Jonah". According to his biography on the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Lomu was "the game's first global superstar" as rugby turned professional in the 1990s and was notable for his size, being perhaps the first player to have the size and strength of a forward but enough speed to play as a back.

Here's some videos: that performance versus England in 1995 (complete with commentator Keith Quinn's near-orgasmic reaction to the first try) | highlights from other matches in 1995, notable for his rampaging runs that set up tries for Josh Kronfeld against Ireland and against Wales | All of his test tries | a compilation of big hits on attack and defence.
posted by Pink Frost (44 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

By all accounts, as impressive a person off the pitch as he was on it.
posted by dvrmmr at 11:49 PM on November 17, 2015


Saw him play in the HK Sevens many years ago. He was absolutely incredible - players bouncing off of him like they were toys as he charged down the field. A God among men.
posted by helmutdog at 12:03 AM on November 18, 2015


That try of Lomu against England is one of the things that comes to my mind about great individual plays in all of sport. The mismatch of power is so large it looks like a big alien just dropped by, put on an All-Blacks jersey, and decided to wreck the puny humans apart. A shame his career is so short, a bigger shame his life was even shorter.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:10 AM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can't emphasise how massive a physical threat he was back in '95. The entire Springbok game plan revolved around neutralising him. Try of the '95 tournament RWC was justly him running over Mike Catt like a Humvee through a small stream.
posted by PenDevil at 12:13 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Poor Mike Catt - who was no rugby - slouch himself was destroyed by Lomu in that game. He really was a quantum leap forward for the game.
posted by dmt at 12:43 AM on November 18, 2015


Jonah Lomu was the epitome of an All Black. As an Australian and not particularly a rugby fan, to me he was an athlete that transcended his sport and made me watch him.

What a loss.
posted by awfurby at 12:51 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by Foaf at 12:53 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 1:06 AM on November 18, 2015

Although I missed the New Zealand Sporting Gene and couldn't give a shit about rugby (except insofar as it is an interesting and significant cultural phenomenon of my people) I am still very sad about this. Lomu exemplified what we hope for but don't often get in elite athletes: humility and grace and decency. And then, horribly, the physical glory got taken away from him, and he bore it seemingly without complaint.

I heard the news on the car radio this afternoon: there was an interview with someone, and I gradually realised the interviewer and interviewee were both using the past tense, Jonah was this, Lomu did that. Fuck, is Jonah Lomus DEAD? Yup. And then the next interviewee was Laurie Mains, who gave a fine account of Lomu's significance as a player, changing the whole nature of test rugby. "Now tell us about Jonah as a person" asked the interviewer, and Mains said a few sentences praising his humility and character, and then clearly, live on air, choked. There was manly silence. "Thank you very much, that was Laurie Mains", the interviewer rescued him (former All Black coaches shouldn't be allowed to cry on national radio). And I shed a tear in the car. We are down one more virtuous citizen.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:06 AM on November 18, 2015 [16 favorites]

How terribly sad :( Lomu is one of three rugby players I could name. The other two being present stars if my national team. He was a sight to behold and a big part of why I like to watch a little rugby when it's on.
posted by Iteki at 1:24 AM on November 18, 2015

Some of the rugby teams came to my school in the run up to the World Cup in 1995 - why/how, I have no idea! - and Jonah Lomu was one of the players we met. My memories are very dim as was about 10 but I still remember that he was lovely and that was reinforced by everything I heard about him after as I grew up. I'm very sad today.

posted by halcyonday at 1:28 AM on November 18, 2015


very sad, he was the first superstar of the modern game. Even as a wallabies supporter, he was fearsome to watch.
posted by wilful at 1:43 AM on November 18, 2015

(so glad you made this post, because I was going to, and it should have been (and was) a kiwi's honour).
posted by wilful at 1:46 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by pompomtom at 1:46 AM on November 18, 2015

I remember watching that game with a load of made-keen England fans. From the opening moments it was like a wake. There are a lot more man-mountains who can sprint in the game now but at the time Lomu was completely dominating - and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy too. To do all he did while suffering from his kidney problems is flat-out amazing.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:56 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lomu Haka
posted by chavenet at 2:02 AM on November 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

40 is way too young.

posted by marienbad at 2:20 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The compilation of big hits video: wow! Just wow!
posted by oluckyman at 2:34 AM on November 18, 2015


He was so good, it made watching your national team being pulverised fun.
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:48 AM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

oluckyman: "The compilation of big hits video: wow! Just wow!"
At the one minute mark, there's a nice sequence where he first pushes off four Barbarians like they were gnats and then keeps running with the ball while five other guys are hanging off his shoulders.

(Incidentally, I can't figure out what game that is. This list has no matches between the Barbarians and the All Blacks in the period Lomu was playing. Halp?)
posted by brokkr at 2:59 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by SpacemanRed at 3:07 AM on November 18, 2015

I was almost crying for most of the day. Although he hadn't played for a long time, he was still out there, being a hero, signing autographs for everyone and smiling, always smiling despite a tragic personal life.

The TV news today, usually 60 minutes, was 90 minutes, 60 of which were Jonah.

If we had become a republic in his lifetime, he would have been President.
posted by arzakh at 3:14 AM on November 18, 2015

Watching him play it always reminded me of watching future professionals tapes from their youth amateur days - except he was doing it to other professionals.
posted by JPD at 3:34 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yup - and he was doing it to the best players in the world.
posted by carter at 3:58 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The TV news today, usually 60 minutes, was 90 minutes, 60 of which were Jonah.

If we had become a republic in his lifetime, he would have been President.

Doubt it. The media has an obsession with rugby because they don't have the funds to move beyond rugby culture. The public meanwhile are growing less and less interested.
posted by dydecker at 4:42 AM on November 18, 2015


I have no clue about rugby but watching Jonah Lomu play was like watching poetry in motion. Gone way, way too soon. I'm bloody verklempt today.
posted by kariebookish at 4:52 AM on November 18, 2015

I knew he was waiting for a transplant but this is such a shock. He seemed such a fine bloke off the field and just a power on it.
posted by hawthorne at 4:55 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by GrapeApiary at 5:09 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by dudemanlives at 7:02 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by tommasz at 7:11 AM on November 18, 2015

I remember watching him on the TV playing rugby when I was in my early teens and just thinking he was the most impressively terrifying specimen of a man. Very sad indeed. My thoughts are with his wife and kiddies.
posted by JenThePro at 7:16 AM on November 18, 2015

I was a teenager in South Africa during the 1995 World Cup. South Africa was newly democratic, newly readmitted to International Rugby, the World Cup was being played on home soil, we somehow made it to the finals, but still Jonah Lomu was all anyone could talk about. He was an absolute superstar and all around good guy.
(South Africa only won because he had food poisoning. Either that or the Mandela moment, depends who you ask.)
posted by doublenelson at 7:29 AM on November 18, 2015


Saw him play a couple of times. I think we may never see his like again.
posted by scruss at 7:35 AM on November 18, 2015

A giant among men.
posted by dazed_one at 7:55 AM on November 18, 2015

The game has changed so much since he came onto the international pitch. I am blown away by the speed of that game in 1995 now, and how rarely you see someone storm up the field like he did.

At the last World Cup when NZ hosted, Jonah was on hand as a dignitary and I guess it was around the time of his kidney rejection. I remember how unwell he looked then, how grey his face was. He hung on for a long time and accomplished a huge amount.

Kua hinga te totara. The mighty totara [tree] has fallen.
posted by tracicle at 8:32 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the '90s, possibly riding on Lomu's fame, Mcdonalds introduced the Kiwiburger, a monstrosity of a beast of a burger with beetroot and a fried egg, both typical kiwi burger fillings.

I don't remember if Jonah was a spokesperson for the burger, but all I know is that we still call that a Lomuburger to this day.
posted by tracicle at 8:34 AM on November 18, 2015

Jerry and Jonah.
Even with the World Cup 2015 has been a shitty year for NZ Rugby.
posted by fullerine at 9:15 AM on November 18, 2015


I had the privilege of being at Stadium Australia in 2000 for the greatest rugby test match ever played, in front of what is I believe still a record crowd size for a rugby game. Jonah scored the winning try in the final minutes in an almost unbelievable come back - and the NZ'ers in the crowd went absolutely bananas. The next morning I was at Sydney Airport flying back to NZ, when the entire All Blacks squad came through the gate area. I managed to get signatures on the match program from almost the entire team, including Jonah Lomu. He was incredible in-person.....and my very vivid memory is thinking just how massive his hands were as he took my pen and signed the booklet......the pen seemed to just disappear in his fist as he signed.

Truly a giant on and off the field- and taken far too early.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:32 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Will Carling's comment after the infamous World Cup game in '95: "There are 14 All Blacks in the showers next door, and one in the car wash down the road."

And England coach Clive Woodward: "The night before a game I used to list the two teams, and I said in a team meeting: 'There's absolutely nobody I'd swap man for man'. I was doing my motivational talk. I got to the end and Will Greenwood put his hand up and said: 'Clive, we're all with you, but on behalf of all the team, I think we'd swap Austin Healey for Jonah Lomu'."
posted by Prince Lazy I at 10:49 AM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Will Carling was once asked in an interview if he had any thoughts as to how the England team might manage to stop Jonah Lomu.

He suggested a shotgun.
posted by Major Clanger at 11:29 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow, what a combination of size, speed, agility, and strength.

posted by benito.strauss at 11:42 AM on November 18, 2015

posted by culfinglin at 3:57 PM on November 18, 2015

Morgan Godfery has a fascinating article in the Guardian on Lomu's social significance. There's a lot to unpick in the article, but some key quotes:
He was a juggernaut who helped reshape the country’s fear of Polynesian physicality from something inherently criminal, to something that could be admired, even cheered for....Lomu proved you could still win when the deck is stacked, maybe while having a good time too. That did mean something for us [young Polynesian New Zealanders], even if it didn’t do anything in a material sense....if Lomu can do one thing, I hope it is to begin a reconciliation between parts of the left and sport.
posted by Pink Frost at 4:26 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

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