- Former All Blacks doctor confirmed news on Wednesday morning
- ‘We’re all shocked and deeply saddened’, says New Zealand Rugby CEO
New Zealand is mourning one of its greatest sporting heroes after the former All Blacks player Jonah Lomu died unexpectedly in Auckland on Wednesday at the age of 40.
John Mayhew, the former All Blacks doctor, confirmed the news on Wednesday morning.
“On behalf of the Lomu family, I can confirm that Jonah Lomu died this morning, most probably about 8 or 9” Mayhew said. “The family are obviously devastated, as are friends and acquaintances.
“The family have requested privacy at this stage, they are obviously going through a terrible time. It was totally unexpected. Jonah and his family arrived back from the United Kingdom last night and he suddenly died this morning.”
Lomu had suffered from health problems since his retirement from playing in 2002 due to a rare kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome. He underwent a kidney transplant in 2004 and had been on dialysis treatment for the past 10 years.
He had recently travelled to the UK for the Rugby World Cup, during which he worked with tournament sponsors. He and his family holidayed in Dubai on their way back to New Zealand and Lomu had tweeted from there as recently as Monday.
“We’re all shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of Jonah Lomu,” New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said.
“Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world. We’re lost for words and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jonah’s family.”
New Zealand’s prime minister John Key took to Twitter to express his condolences. “Deeply saddened to hear of Jonah Lomu’s unexpected passing this morning. The thoughts of the entire country are with his family,” he wrote.
Lomu played in 63 Tests for New Zealand after making his debut in 1994. He scored 37 tries and his physical, often brutal, running game regularly terrorised defences the world over.
The bullocking try he scored against England at the 1995 World Cup, when opposition defenders bounced off him on his way to the line, was this year voted the greatest in World Cup history.
That World Cup in South Africa was the breakthrough tournament for Lomu, who had come to the selectors’ attention the previous year and made his debut aged only 19, breaking a record that had stood for 90 years as their youngest Test player.
He was a surprise selection in the squad for 1995 with only two caps, but by the end of the tournament he was probably the most famous rugby player in the world, despite the All Blacks losing the final to the Springboks.
He scored seven tries in the tournament, including four in the 45-29 semi-final defeat of England. Lomu’s 15 World Cup tries stood alone as the highest tally until they were equalled by South Africa’s Bryan Habana at this year’s tournament.
Lomu’s rise to international prominence in South Africa not only made him a star of the game, but also helped take rugby union to a global audience it had not previously reached.
“What it meant for rugby, that World Cup changed everything,” Lomu told the Guardian in August. “When I look at it now I understand my impact more. When they show clips of me on the TV, my sons turn and look at me. They have grown up as the sons of Jonah and it’s a daunting task trying to explain to them what I achieved.
“I don’t have any regrets. Everything that I achieved in rugby I cherished. I was in a World Cup final in South Africa against South Africa when a country became one. As Francois Pienaar [the Springboks captain] said: ‘It was not 80,000 in the stadium it was 44 million.’”