At the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, I wrote a post recalling the World Cup of 1995, which was held in South Africa while I was visiting there. I had the privilege of seeing the great Jonah Lomu demolishing the England defence that day. Today I learned with greant sadness that he has passed away, aged just 40. Since Jonah Lomu played such a central role in one of the most amazing sporting experiences of my life, which lives in my memory as if it happened yesterday, I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the awesome sportsman that he was by sharing that memory again.
In 1995 was visiting George Ellis at the University of Cape Town to work on a book, which was published in 1997. The book is now rather out of date, but I think it turned out rather well and it was certainly a lot of fun working on it. Of course it was a complete coincidence that I timed my trip to Cape Town exactly to cover the period of the Rugby Word Cup. Well, perhaps not a complete coincidence. In fact I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the semi-final of that tournament between England and New Zealand at Newlands, in Cape Town. I was in the stand at one end of the ground, and saw New Zealand – spearheaded by the incredible Jonah Lomu – score try after try in the distance at the far end during the first half. Here is the first, very soon after the kickoff when Andrew Mehrtens wrong-footed England by kicking to the other side of the field than where the forwards were lined up. The scrambling defence conceded a scrum which led to a ruck, from which this happened:
Jonah Lomu was unstoppable that day. One of the All Blacks later quipped that “Rugby is a team game. Fourteen players all know that their job is to give the ball to Jonah”.
It was one-way traffic in the first half but England played much better in the second, with the result that all the action was again at the far end of the pitch. However, right at the end of the match Jonah Lomu scored another try, this time at the end I was standing. I’ll never forget the sight of that enormous man sprinting towards me and am glad it wasn’t my job to try to stop him, especially have seen what happened to Underwood, Catt and Carling when they tried to bring him down. Lomu scored four tries in that game, in one of the most memorable performances by any sportsman in any sport. It’s so sad that he has gone. It’s especially hard to believe that such a phenomenal athlete could be taken at such a young age. My thoughts are with his family and friends.
Rest in Peace, Jonah Lomu (1975-2015)Follow @telescoper