Jonah Lomu: The day he sprung out to delight fans

JONAH Lomu is the only man who could hide in a vending machine and still make an impact on rugby fans.

For evidence of the New Zealand great's lasting impact on the game, think no further back than the just-completed World Cup in England.

Lomu, long-since retired, didn't make an impact on the field, of course.

But tournament sponsor Heineken was on to a winner when it hid him in a vending machine inside an old pub.

Punters walked up, had to play a game and if they won, a ball popped out, personally signed by Lomu.

Imagine the bewilderment of winners, wondering how their name could possibly appear on a ball, signed by Lomu, out of a coin-operated machine.

After an hour or two, Lomu stepped out of the kiosk and the pub froze. It really was the rugby god, and there was a standing ovation as he left the building.

 

Such has been Lomu's impact everywhere since his conversion from a schoolboy loose forward to the wing of the All Blacks.

The game had not seen anyone as devastating leading up to the 1990s, and has not seen anyone as destructive since.

He could run around players, but he didn't have to. He simply ran over them.

 

The mighty All Blacks could open a room to the world's media, and 100 people would crowd around Lomu, leaving the other mega-rich stars cooling their heels.

Off the field, Lomu made some average decisions, a string of relationships folded and new ones started nearly at the same time -- and his split with long-time mentor/manager Phil Kingsley-Jones was painful to watch.

But he was a fantastic ambassador, always willing to talk to fans, always willing to promote the game - even when he was a shambling wreck on the field in Auckland at the 2011 World Cup opening.

It was obvious then the latest kidney failure was having its impact, but still the fans crowded for him.

As far as global icons go, there have been none bigger in rugby.

The kidney disease that finally took his life cut him down in his prime. It was the only thing that could.

*Bryce Johns is a former sports editor of Wellington's Dominion-Post


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