New Zealand All Black great: Jonah Lomu

Recognised as the original global superstar of rugby, Jonah Lomu created a sporting sensation from the moment he first burst onto the international playing field.

Jonah Lomu's biblical name, stature, lightening speed and penchant for running over the top of defenders were always going to create attention, but few predicted the hero status that was bestowed on his brief career.

The youngest All Black ever, Lomu remains the official, all-time Rugby World Cup top try scorer with 15 tries.

His 63 All Black caps spanned a relatively short period, and it was during the 1995 Rugby World Cup that Lomu cemented his international rugby superstar status.

Early rugby career

Jonah Tali Lomu was born on 12 May 1975 in Auckland, and his early rugby career included playing for the New Zealand under-19 and under-21 teams.

Lomu first came to notice internationally at the 1994 Hong Kong (China) Sevens tournament where his impressive size, strength and speed made him an intimidating and unique rugby player. In top physical condition, Lomu could run 100 metres in just 11 seconds.

At only 19 years and 45 days, Lomu became the youngest All Black test player ever, when he debuted on the wing against France in 1994 - thereby breaking an age record that had been held by Edgar Wrigley since 1905.

Despite having just two All Black caps, Lomu was included in the 1995 World Cup squad for South Africa where he stunned the rugby world by scoring seven tries in five matches.

Of the 37 tries Lomu scored in his 63 tests, more than half were scored in the 1995 season and in the 1999 Rugby World Cup tournament.

His signature style of running into and over defenders with ease saw him labelled "a freak" by former England captain Will Carling.

Lomu’s explosive play meant that in his heyday he was considered ‘rugby union’s biggest drawcard’, capable of increasing match ticket sales single-handedly.

Health problems

In 1996 Lomu showed the first signs of a health problem - a debilitating kidney illness known as Nephrotic Syndrome - that would eventually prevent him from playing when he would otherwise have been at the peak of his career.

Although he remained in All Black squads up until 2002, Lomu was battling and in 2003 he dropped out of the Super 12 early, confirming that his health had deteriorated.

In May 2003 the New Zealand Rugby Football Union announced that Lomu was undergoing dialysis three times a week. Side affects led to nerve damage in his feet and legs, and doctors warned that he would be wheelchair-bound if a kidney transplant was not performed.

In July 2004 it was revealed that Lomu had undergone a kidney transplant thanks to a Wellington donor, radio presenter Grant Kereama.

Lomu comeback

Lomu then announced his intention to return to rugby, and in June 2005 made his comeback at Twickenham against Martin Johnson’s invitational XV. He scored a try in the first half, but injured his shoulder in the process and had to have surgery causing him to miss the 2005 NPC season.

A chapter of ups and downs followed with shoulder and ankle problems, interspersed with stints playing for NZ first division team North Harbour which ended in a coaching capacity, and mixed success in Wales with the Cardiff Blues and Celtic League.

After three seasons away from New Zealand, Lomu returned to play for Massey and then North Harbour, with the aim of reclaiming his All Blacks jersey for the 2007 World Cup. However, early in 2007 it became apparent he was not going to make it.

Jonah Lomu retired from rugby in 2007, but two years later in 2009 joined French Fédérale 1 team Marseille Vitrolles - playing at No 8, the position he had enjoyed as a youngster. He signed with the Marseille team for the 2009 -2010 season.

A global icon

In 2007, Lomu was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to rugby, and was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.

Lomu’s personal life has been well documented in the media. He has been married and divorced twice, and now lives with his third wife Nadene Lomu.

In his capacity as a superstar sportsman, Lomu was offered a number of lucrative contracts and opportunities. He was said to have turned down a multi-million dollar offer to play American football.

He also rejected an offer to play the villain Gabor in the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough (1999), declining in order to concentrate fully on his rugby career.

Jonah has a wax likeness of himself at Madame Tussaud’s in London. At one stage he had the number 11, his famous playing number, shaved into his eyebrow. The number is now tattooed on his chest.

Another claim to fame is that he stars in his own PlayStation game: 'Jonah Lomu's Rugby'.

In 2011 Jonah Lomu was appointed ambassador of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, along with fellow rugby greats Sean Fitzpatrick, John Kirwan, David Kirk, Andrew Mehrtens and Michael Jones. In 2014 he was named ambassador for the IRB Junior Rugby World Championship.

Lasting legacy

On November 18 2015 Jonah Lomu passed away as a result of a long battle withNephrotic Syndrome. Lomu was an ambassador for Rugby right up to his death, attending the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The great winger was revered worldwide for his talents on the field and compassion off it.