I hadn’t intended on posting today, but on seeing the sad news that Jonah Lomu had passed away aged 40, I felt compelled to write about him.
You see, Lomu was the reason I became a fan of rugby in the first place. Before the World Cup Final in 1995 I had shown very little interest in the sport. I was 7 when I saw highlights of him terrorising the English in the semi-final in South Africa, scoring four tries on the way to one of the most celebrated individual performances in the history of the sport.
I remember running around at school the next week, invisible rugby ball in hand, barrelling through the other children on my way to dive over the imaginary tryline at the end of the playground. Before Lomu, rugby had appeared to my naïve eyes to be a brutish game played by old blokes from the pub. The kind of thing they had a go at when they were taking a break from playing darts. Jonah Lomu to me made it about superheroes, men who were capable of things we could only dream of. Even now, I still partially view the game through the lens he created.
On starting to play rugby in secondary school, Lomu’s influence meant I had no intention of playing as a forward (plus I was an absolute stick and would have been crushed, but it was mainly Jonah). As I have grown up I’ve come to respect the thankless work carried out by forwards perhaps even more than their speedy counterparts, but at that age I wanted the glory; I simply had to be a back. I wanted to be the man who ran and ran. I wanted to unstoppable. I wanted to be Jonah Lomu.
Today has seen an outpouring of stories about what a kind, wonderful person he was. A monster on the pitch but a gent off it (and not to mention a great role model to those who had a similar tough upbringing), he was exactly the player the game needed to take it to the next level. That he has been taken from us at such a young age is of course nothing short of a tragedy.
But on some level, we should feel lucky to have had him at all. In the future, many, many players will be considered good. Several will be considered legends. But there will only be one Jonah Lomu.