Ravi Nyayapati –
It is customary to pay tribute to personalities who leave behind a legacy. When such individuals match their sports ability to an equally imperious contribution in humanity, their loss is more profoundly felt. Jonah Tali Lomu was undoubtedly in this unique group of gentle souls.
He was, without a doubt, the first true global superstar of rugby union and possibly their biggest international draw card. His global recognition can be likened to that of Muhammad Ali, Don Bradman and Tiger Woods. The queen sending a message of condolences on his death is a testament to his magnanimity and the respect he had earned globally.
Lomu came through a well-publicised, rough upbringing and a generally tough life dogged by a rare kidney disorder identified in 1996. His grit and will power were at their despite these setbacks. It was remarkable to see him return to competitive rugby after undergoing a kidney transplant in 2004. Deteriorating health led to his retirement in 2007.
Lomu had a distinctive combination of speed, power and size as his biggest assets. For someone weighing 120 kgs, Lomu could run 100 metres in 10.8 seconds. His height advantage made him the best exponent at bumping off attempted tackles.
The youngest person to be made an All Black, Lomu made his debut against France in 1994. In the 1995 World Cup he showed what skill he really possessed, scoring seven tries in five matches. At the following World Cup in 1999, he bettered that with eight tries, despite then dealing with the kidney disorder. He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007, and the IRB Hall of Fame in 2011.
In spite of the media frenzy surrounding his greatness, Lomu generally stayed away from controversy. Post retirement, he became an ambassador for UNICEF and his charitable work continued till his death. He was ably and committedly supported by his wife Nadene Quirk, not only in the charity work, but also in attending to his health needs.
Lomu was pragmatic about his chances of survival. “My goal is to make it to the boys’ 21st,” he told the Daily Mail three months ago. “There are no guarantees that will happen, but it’s my focus.”
His sudden passing left many dumbfounded. For rugby fans, it is hard to imagine what 2015 will be more memorable for – the domination of the legendary team that won the World Cup or the loss of the all-time legend of the game.