19 Nov 2015

Lomu 'opened the door for Pacific Islanders'

9:53 am on 19 November 2015

Jonah Lomu's rise from humble beginnings to the "best" rugby player in the world shows children in south Auckland that anything is possible, friend and former team mate Frank Bunce says.

Jonah Lomu in action at the 1995 Rugby World Cup

Jonah Lomu in action at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Photo: AFP

Tributes continue to flow in for Lomu, who died at the age of 40 yesterday, just hours after returning from a trip to Dubai.

Watch Jonah Lomu's greatest moments here

Among those shocked by his death was former All Black teammate Frank Bunce, who was one of a group of senior players with Pacific heritage who took the young Lomu under their wing.

"Rushy was the first one to tell me about him...he said 'the boy is going to be a star'. I think he was only 16 or something.

"From where he came from to where he ended up, the change was just massive.

"For a young fella who could have easily ended up on the wrong side of the law - if not worse - in his younger days, to come from the back streets of Mangere and become the man who he was - the most respected rugby player in the history of the game.

"There's no doubt he was the best. There was no one ever like him and I doubt there will be anyone else who has an impact like that on the game."

Bunce played centre for the All Blacks when Lomu was on the wing in the mid-1990s. Lomu's legend would live on for youngsters in south Auckland, where Lomu grew up, he said.

Jonah Lomu sings the national anthem. Rugby Union. New Zealand v France, second test, Jonah Lomu's second test for the All Blacks, All Blacks lost 23-20. 3 July 1994.

Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"It's a case of 'If Jonah can get where he got...', then you know, I don't want to say anyone can - but there's an opportunity."

Lomu attended Wesley College and students at the school were proud of him being one of them, Lomu's former teacher Richard Smythe said.

Lomu wasn't interested in rugby at first, but it didn't take long for him or for others to notice his talent, he said.

"Even as a junior there was only one way to stop him, to tackle him at the legs.

"I just remember the coach saying 'where did you get that monster from?' - and I said 'that monster's from Mangere'."

Churchgoers paid tribute to Lomu at last night's service at the Lotofale'ia Mangere Tongan Church, where Lomu once went to Sunday school.

Some churchgoers wore black, in memory of a man who shared their services as a youngster, years before his talent on the rugby field drew international attention.

Assistant parish secretary Soana Muimuiheata said Lomu made the world take notice.

"He kind of opened up the door for the Pacific Islanders, so he does a lot, not just for the Tongans but as well as for the Pacific and the New Zealanders - worldwide.

"It's sad that he's gone so early - 40 years old.

"But watching him in the highlights of the rugby today, you know, he's got everything, he's got the speed, he's got the strength."

Jonah Lomu - pictured with his sons Brayley and Dhyreille - supported several charities, including UNICEF.

Jonah Lomu - pictured with his sons Brayley and Dhyreille - supported several charities, including UNICEF. Photo: SUPPLIED / UNICEF New Zealand

Tributes were paid to Jonah at last night's service, not just from the pulpit, but from parishioners too.

Lomu's involvement with charities, including Unicef and Kidney Kids NZ, showed he was more than just a sportsman, churchgoer Sione said.

"It brought a bit of tears to my eyes.

"For his contributions he will be remembered by a lot of people in various areas."

Lomu's appeal was inter-generational, and Sione said his son Seta was well aware of his legacy.

The rugby star was a role model, someone to be proud of and someone who always remembered his roots, other churchgoers said.

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Tributes flow in for 'rugby's first superstar'

Former Wallabies skipper John Eales said Lomu was a formidable player who was always on his mind ahead of a game.

"He was at the front of your mind - what were you going to do to either stop getting the ball to Jonah or what were you going to do if he got the ball."

"He had this wonderful on-field presence but it was matched by his off-field presence.

"On the field he was so impactful, but off the field he was so gentle. He looked you in the eye when he spoke to you. He was purposeful, but very humble at the same time. For someone who had so much talent, he was a very humble man," Eales said.

"I'm not sure he appreciated how big he was."

Former Wallabies captain George Gregan said Lomu put rugby on the global stage.

"He was definitely rugby's first superstar. He put it on the global stage.

"There were some wonderful players who had gone before him - don't get me wrong - at that time when rugby was amateur going to professionalism he was the guy, everyone saw him perform on the world stage which was the 1995 World Cup and dominate and do things which no one else had seen."

Lomu was his usual, jovial self, when he met with Gregan during half time in the World Cup final in London, he said.

One of the men Lomu tormented in the 1995 Rugby World Cup said tackling the All Blacks winger was like trying to stop "a truck".

Former England first-five Rob Andrew was part of the side which lost to the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup semi-final, when Lomu ran over a host of English defenders to score arguably his most famous try.

Wellington, Hurricanes and All Black teamates Tana Umaga (left) and Jonah Lomu.

Wellington, Hurricanes and All Black teamates Tana Umaga (left) and Jonah Lomu. Photo: Photograph

Lomu may have fought a tough battle on the rugby field, but he fought an even tougher one off it, Blues coach and former All Black captain Tana Umaga said.

Lomu always had a positive outlook on life, no matter the circumstances, Umaga, who played alongside the famous number 11 at the Hurricanes and for New Zealand, said.

Other team mates and friends have described Lomu as "human dynamo", a humble man and a "global superstar".