Never has there been a player as dominant as Jonah Lomu. Rugby’s first global superstar had a unique combination of size, speed and power which saw him close to unstoppable at his best. Within weeks he took over the rugby world and became the face of the 1995 and 1999 World Cup.
It’s surprising, then, that Lomu was relatively unknown heading into his debut tournament in 1995. After two tests as a 19-year-old against France the year before, he struggled to make the All Blacks World Cup squad, not meeting the early fitness requirements.
But he made it. And it wasn’t long until he became the most talked-about player in the world, bursting onto the scene with some devastating runs against Ireland, Wales and Scotland in the pool games and the quarterfinal.
The semifinal saw them come up against a strong England team that fancied their chances. No one told Jonah this, though, as he scored four tries in what is now a legendary performance. He was untouchable that day and delivered arguably the most dominant performance of all time.
He couldn’t cross the line in the final, but still imposed himself on the game, often drawing multiple defenders, creating gaps elsewhere on the field. But the All Blacks couldn’t topple the Springboks at home.
After many problems with his kidney disease, Lomu returned to the World Cup in 1999, this time the most heavily marked man in world rugby. It’s this that makes his efforts even more impressive. Once again, he gave defences all sorts of problems, with his double against France and his long-range effort against England being highlights.
Sadly he didn’t make it to the 2003 World Cup, having to undergo surgery after his kidney collapsed in mid-2003.
He had his detractors. Many claim he wasn’t the complete player. Others cite the fact he scored against South Africa. Both may be true. But what he did was phenomenal. Never has there been a more dominant player. Whatever his weaknesses were, he made up for this through sheer destructiveness, while also drawing multiple defenders, opening up gaps elsewhere.
Lomu never won a World Cup, but such was his dominance there is no question that he deserves his spot amongst the rugby World Cup’s superstars.