Thousands of people flocked to Eden Park for a public memorial service as they paid their final respects to former All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu.
Lomu, known as ‘rugby’s first global superstar’, died unexpectedly at the age of 40 on November 18. He had been suffering from a kidney disease for 20 years and was awaiting a second transplant.
The fitting tribute brought together many members of the sporting community, with the entire Blues rugby squad and Warriors team in attendance to pay their respects to Lomu, along with many of his former teammates from all levels of his illustrious rugby career.
Icons of New Zealand sport performed a rousing haka, led by All Blacks legend Buck Shelford, at the end of the service as Lomu’s casket was carried from the stage and into a waiting hearse.
Lomu’s former high school coach, Chris Grinter used six simple words to sum up the impact he had on rugby union. “Too big, too fast, too much.”
The service at the ground where the hulking winger once thundered down the touchlines was the last chance for his compatriots to publicly mourn his death and celebrate his life. He will be buried after a private funeral service later this week.
Many of the speakers at the service referred not only to Lomu’s abilities on the field but also to what he did off it. Several remarked on his impact as a role model for children in South Auckland, by making time for autograph hunters and bringing hope to sick children through hospital visits.
The service – which was broadcast on both main free-to-air TV channels in New Zealand – also included musical interludes from artists from South Auckland.
His former teammate Eric Rush brought a bit of humour to the proceedings, speaking of Lomu’s conflict with the nutritional demands made by his coaches and his appetite.
It was a love-hate relationship. I loved training, he loved the Manukau city food court. You didn’t tell Jonah to do anything, but if you asked him, he’d run through a brick wall for you.
World Rugby’s chairman, Bernard Lapasset said Lomu was “a giant” of the game, whilst former All Blacks coach John Hart said the world never saw Lomu at his very best because of his illness.
It is frightening to consider what he could have achieved on the field if he had not played his entire career with a massive medical handbrake. You were a freak on the field and … to the world you will be remembered as the All Black who made number 11 his own.
A fitting send off for an absolute legend on and off the rugby field.