Rugby Union

New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu who changed the face of rugby union

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Jonah Lomu was a giant of a man whose remarkable impact on rugby union reverberated throughout the sporting world.

New Zealander Lomu, who has died in Auckland aged 40, had a game-changing presence. He will be remembered as rugby union's first - and biggest - superstar of the sport's 20-year professional era.

Those many millions who observed his rise from schoolboy number eight to a repeated match-winning All Blacks wing can consider themselves fortunate to have witnessed a special talent, one so gifted that he once won 10 different events on the same sports day at Wesley College.

Born in Auckland to Tongan parents in 1975, Jonah Tali Lomu spent the early part of his childhood in Tonga. Lomu later revealed those early years were not always happy, enduring a sometimes difficult relationship with his father.

In a television documentary about his life, entitled 'Anger Within', that first aired in 2013, the Rugby Heaven website reported that Lomu spoke about a father who was "quite violent when he was drunk."

Lomu soon began making an impression on the rugby pitch, though, and it was the New Zealand schoolboys selectors who first spotted his rare talent, albeit as a back-row forward, before he switched to wing - Lomu later described it as the best move he could have made - and starred at under-19 and under-21 international level.

At the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens, 18-year-old Lomu announced his arrival on rugby's global stage, outplaying established star names like Waisale Serevi and David Campese, being named player of the tournament and heralding a senior All Blacks debut that arrived a short time later.

Aged just 19 years and 45 days, 6ft 5in Lomu lined up against France in Christchurch to become the All Blacks' youngest Test player, breaking a record that had been held by Edgar Wrigley since 1905. Lomu went on to win 63 caps, score 37 Test tries and feature in two World Cups.

His arrival at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa was eagerly-awaited. Despite being a rookie international performer in terms of experience, he had already shown enough of his rare ability to suggest that rugby union's global stage would also give him a suitable platform to display such wondrous talent.

And so it proved, but in a way that even by Lomu's box-office standards, few would have thought possible.

He scored seven tries during the tournament - New Zealand reached the final before losing to the Springboks after extra-time in Johannesburg - with four of those touchdowns famously accounting for semi-final opponents England.

On a Sunday afternoon in Cape Town, Lomu delivered what remains the greatest individual Rugby World Cup performance as he combined awesome power with searing pace that scattered England's defence to all parts. He unforgettably "ran over" England back Mike Catt for one of his scores as England conceded 45 points and Lomu cemented a special place in rugby history. England captain Will Carling later described him as "a freak."

The World Cup proved a special place for Lomu, as four years later he scored eight tries during a competition played on English and Welsh soil. That remains a World Cup record for one tournament, since equalled by South African Bryan Habana and New Zealander Julian Savea, as does his career World Cup tally of 15 touchdowns, which is now shared with Habana.

Far greater challengers were to arrive for Lomu off the pitch, though. Having already been diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a serious kidney disorder, the New Zealand Rugby Union announced in 2003 - six months after Lomu's final Test match appearance - that he had been put on kidney dialysis three times a week.

He subsequently underwent a kidney transplant, but his body rejected it seven years later and dialysis treatment continued.

Lomu attempted a rugby comeback in 2005, playing in a testimonial match at Twickenham for England World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson, while he also signed for New Zealand provincial team North Harbour and had a brief stint with Cardiff Blues, scoring a European Cup try against Italian side Calvisano and then guaranteeing a capacity crowd for the return fixture in Wales a week later, when he made his Blues home debut.

Lomu retired from rugby in 2007 - he was appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours list the same year - although the odd charity match appearance continued, and he was a popular, in-demand visitor to the recent England-hosted World Cup, carrying out considerable promotional work.

During that tournament, Lomu tweeted passionately about the sport he still loved. The success of "the brothers in black" - New Zealand's 2015 world champion squad - was relished publicly by someone who had thrived at the sport's highest level.

Tragically, less than three weeks later, others were tweeting with the same passion about Lomu.

He is survived by wife Nadene and their young sons Brayley and Dhyreille.

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