30 Nov 2015

Remembering rugby great Jonah Lomu

8:45 pm on 30 November 2015

Thousands of people turned out to pay tribute to All Black great Jonah Lomu at Eden Park today, remembering his finest moments both on and off the field.

Jonah Lomu's schoolmates from Wesley College were among the first to arrive at the All Black's memorial service, clad in black shirts with the number 11.

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They were joined by thousands of others, including school children, Pacific groups, former All Blacks and fans of all ages waving flags with the silver fern.

The crowd at Jonah Lomu's memorial service at Eden Park

The crowd at Jonah Lomu's memorial service at Eden Park Photo: RNZ/Diego Opatowski

A stage covered with fine mats was set up on the field, where the casket was carried out to the sound of conches and a haka powhiri (welcome).

Ngati Whatua kaumatua (elder) Grant Hawke delivered a mihi (welcome), followed by a waiata (song), the national anthem and an opening prayer by Lomu's father-in-law, Merv Quirk.

Mr Quirk paid tribute to "our dearly beloved son, father, wonderful husband and great friend" - and thanked those who had made today's service possible, following the performance of the national anthem by the Auckland Gospel Choir.

Jonah Lomu's family surround his casket at the Eden Park memorial service

Jonah Lomu's family surround his casket at the Eden Park memorial service Photo: RNZ/Diego Opatowski

Broadcaster John Campbell - the MC for the public memorial service - welcomed those who had come in person to pay their respects, and those watching from throughout the country and the world. He acknowledged the many and various communities that cared about him.

"Thank you all for being here."

But, most of all, he thanked Lomu's family.

"Thank you for sharing your Jonah with us one last time... The most immense and personal loss is yours, and our love is with you and we hope it helps you through the heartbreak of these terribly sad days."

Jonah Lomu's wife and son at his memorial service at Eden Park

Jonah Lomu's wife and son at his memorial service at Eden Park Photo: RNZ/Diego Opatowski

Prime Minister John Key, who spoke in a recorded message from the climate talks in Paris, was just one of the many who paid tribute to Lomu's sportsmanship and generosity.

"My thoughts are with (Lomu's widow) Nadene and his two young boys, and all of his family and friends. Go well, Jonah. Rest in peace."

World Rugby chair Bernard Lapasset, who travelled to Auckland from France, spoke on behalf of the global rugby community.

"He took our sport to a new level... He burst on to the scene with an energy, passion and intensity, the like of which had never before been witnessed."

Though born in Pukekohe, Lomu was "a Mangere boy, proud of it": students from his former school, Favona Road School, paid tribute with a song they had written, to huge applause from the crowd.

Theirs was one of many musical tributes, including a song by duo Adeaze and a performance by Ardijah.

Former All Blacks coach John Hart spoke on behalf of Lomu's family.

"There'll never be another like him... He mesmerised the world," he said. "You were a freak on the field and a gentle caring giant off it."

Former All Blacks coach John Hart, speaking at the public memorial service for Jonah Lomu at Eden Park on 30 November 2015.

Former All Blacks coach John Hart spoke on behalf of Lomu's family during the service. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Hart spoke of Lomu's love for his family.

"He told me at a dinner just prior to the [2015] World Cup, his greatest joy was watching Brayley and Dhyreille grow up... His greatest fear was that he might not live long enough to see that happen.

"He was a great dad. His kids adored him. Brayley and Dhyreille, your dad will always be by your side."

Former teammate Eric Rush paid tribute to his extraordinary ability on the field but said he remained extremely humble, respectful, generous - "just a lovely bloke, a typical island boy".

Despite his achievements - inspiring so many players, with a generation of players left to inspire ahead - Lomu never showed any arrogance, Rush said.

Before breaking down at the end of his speech, he said: "You didn't tell Jonah to do anything. If you asked him, he'd run through a brick wall for you."

After a final song, 'How Great Thou Art', performed by New Zealand singer-songwriter Lizzie Marvelly, and a closing prayer, read by former All Black Sid Going, the casket was carried back on to the field.

Johan Lomu's casket is carried through Eden Park

Johan Lomu's casket is carried through Eden Park. Photo: RNZ/Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Jonah Lomu's memorial service

Photo: RNZ/Diego Opatowski

The familiar cries of "ka mate, ka mate" roared throughout the stadium in a last haka by members of the All Blacks, which followed a haka by Wesley College students and a farewell by Ngati Whatua.

Lomu's pallbearers carried his casket to the hearse, to be taken back to his home in the Auckland suburb of Epsom ahead of a private memorial service tomorrow.

Nadene releases doves at the close of the ceremony.

Nadene Lomu releases doves at the close of the ceremony. Photo: RNZ/Diego Opatowski

The service concluded with the release of white doves, the first by Lomu's widow.