Hailed as the sport’s first global superstar, Lomu captured the world’s attention when he lit up the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, and most specifically in a devastating display against England.
Famously, in that match, he gathered possession from a loose ball when facing the touchline and within seconds had deftly evaded two tackles before simply running over full-back Mike Catt on his way to a signature score.
While the All Blacks were beaten in that final, Lomu — a 6ft5in colossus with superb handling skills and extraordinary pace — scooped a number of awards for his performances and was also in great form four years later in the 1999 tournament, only for New Zealand to lose to France in a semi-final.
Even at that stage, however, he had been diagnosed with a rare kidney condition, nephrotic syndrome, which truncated his career.
He underwent a kidney transplant in 2004 but had seemed well when attending the recent World Cup in England and Wales, and had returned to Auckland just this week.
While New Zealand mourned his passing, tributes flooded in from the world of Irish rugby.
Brian O’Driscoll tweeted: “Really awful news to wake up to this morning. Jonah was rugby’s first real superstar. Thoughts are with his family.”
Really awful news to wake up to this morning. Jonah was rugby's first real superstar. Thoughts are with his family.— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) November 18, 2015
O’Driscoll’s Ireland colleague Cian Healy also tweeted: “His legacy has and will continue to shape our game. A true hero of the sport!”, and other members of Ireland teams past and present also joined the chorus, with Shane Byrne tweeting: “Played him in 2000, hardest ‘attempted’ tackle I ever made! Gent off the field.”
Gordon D’Arcy wrote of Lomu: “a legend of the game and a lovely man off the field”, and Tommy Bowe said: “Our sport has lost its first real superstar.”
Jonah, a legend of the game and a lovely man off the field. He will be missed. Thoughts with his family #RIPJonah— Gordon D'Arcy (@Gordonwdarcy) November 18, 2015
Very shocked to hear the sad news of Jonah Lomu. Our sport has lost its first real superstar. #RIPJonah— Tommy Bowe (@TommyBowe) November 18, 2015
Munster Rugby tweeted: “Forever a superstar of the game — thoughts and prayers with family”, while the Ulster Rugby Twitter account retweeted a string of tributes paid to the Kiwi.
The Irish Rugby account tweeted: “A game changer, a legend, an All Black.” On its webpage, former Irish captain Keith Wood summed up the mood: “Almost heartbroken actually is the phrase that comes into it”.
Ireland had already witnessed Lomu’s power in the 1995 World Cup and Wood recalled: “I remember sitting on the bench and watching this devastating display of skill, speed and power. And Paul Burke, the Ireland sub out-half, famously there was an injury in the backs, and he’s saying: ‘I’m not going on, I’m not going on’.”
O’Driscoll said of Lomu: “He was a very shy person and had to give a lot of himself.”
The rugby world is grateful that he did.