Hong Kong rugby pays tribute to Sevens legend Jonah Lomu
Legendary New Zealand winger dies suddenly following long battle with kidney illness that extinguished his meteoric All Blacks career
Hong Kong joined the world of rugby in paying tribute to Jonah Lomu on Wednesday after his shock death at the age of 40.
The New Zealand rugby legend took his first steps to global superstardom at the Hong Kong Sevens.
He made his debut in Hong Kong in 1994 when an 18-year-old unknown and went on to become one of the world’s greatest players.
“Jonah Lomu was a great friend to Hong Kong Rugby and a tireless supporter of the Hong Kong Sevens and the Sevens game worldwide,” said Pieter Schats, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union.
“We join the entire rugby world in mourning his passing but also celebrating a life rich in accomplishment, camaraderie and triumph over adversity. Jonah was rugby’s most transformative player and all rugby fans owe him a debt of gratitude.
“We express our sincere condolences to Jonah’s wife Nadene and their two sons and are planning to commemorate Jonah’s life at next year’s Hong Kong Sevens,” Schats added.
The HKRU will honour Lomu with a minute’s silence ahead of the Portugal-Zimbabwe and Hong Kong-Russia test matches being played Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club as part of the Hong Kong Cup of Nations.
Jonah will also be recognised at Friday’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens Long Lunch.
“It all started here. My rugby career really took off in Hong Kong and I will always be grateful for that. I won’t stop coming here unless I’m dropped from the side,” Lomu told the South China Morning Post in 1996 before making it a hat-trick of Cup victories.
WATCH: Jonah Lomu at the Hong Kong Sevens
On another trip to Hong Kong in 2004 as unofficial rugby ambassador, Lomu also revealed to the world that a close friend had agreed to donate a kidney to save his life. He vowed then that he would play for his country again.
“I will be back,” the giant winger said.
Unfortunately, he never made it back on the pitch at Hong Kong Stadiuum, but he returned many times to the city because of his love affair with the Sevens.
Lomu, the game's first global superstar whose speed and power terrorised opponents, battled the kidney disease that ended his career for decades.
"I can confirm that Jonah Lomu died this morning... it was totally unexpected, Jonah and his family arrived back from the UK last night," Mayhew told TV3 before breaking down in tears.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew tweeted: "We're all shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of Jonah Lomu. Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world."New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also paid tribute, saying: "The thoughts of the entire country are with his family."
Lomu played 63 tests on the wing for New Zealand from 1995 to 2002, scoring 37 tries.
He rose to stardom at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, where his combination of speed and power stunned opponents.
At his peak, the 1.96 metre (six-foot-five) Lomu weighed 120 kilograms (265 pounds) and could cover 100 metres in 10.8 seconds.
He was diagnosed in late 1995 with the rare kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome, which eventually cut short his international career.
He was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011, when rugby's governing body said he had left an indelible mark on the Rugby World Cup.
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset said in a 2013 documentary that Lomu revolutionalised the sport at a key juncture when the game was turning professional.
"He was rugby's first professional star at a time when the sport needed media coverage and recognition from sponsors," he said.
"The conjunction of the way rugby was going pro and the way Jonah Lomu exploded on the scene was perfect for the game's future."
Lomu remained one of the world's most recognised rugby players and had been in Britain for promotional work linked to the recently completed World Cup.
Fellow legends paid tribute on social media to a player they acknowledged had a unique status.
"I am so, so devastated to hear of the passing away of @JONAHTALILOMU," England's Jonny Wilkinson tweeted. "The greatest superstar and just a fabulous human being. Deeply saddened."
France's Thierry Dusautoir said "you inspired a generation of rugby players around the world", while Welshman Jonathan Davies hailed "a true legend and a gentleman".
He is survived by his wife Nadene and sons Brayley and Dhyreille.