Jonah Lomu had the biggest impact of any player on any Rugby World Cup, says Rory Underwood November 18 2016, 0 Comments

 

Former England winger saw up close Lomu's devastating impact in unforgettable 1995 RWC semi-final

When Jonah Lomu charged at you at full pelt, there often wasn’t much you could do to stop him – as England found out to our cost in that memorable semi-final in the 1995 World Cup.

Lomu was the fiercest of opponents. His speed, once he got going, his sheer size and the length of his stride meant that he was a difficult man to bring down.

A player who in that match swatted my brother Tony off “like a fly”, as one commentator put it, before storming through attempted tackles by Will Carling and Mike Catt was always going to be remembered by those who love rugby for a long time after the final whistle blew.

Yet Lomu, who has died so tragically young at the age of 40, leaving behind a wife and two young sons, was not just a big guy who ran fast. He was both of those things on the pitch, yes, but he was also supremely skillful. It was this combination – his power and his technical mastery – that made him stand out in the sport.

At the time, I didn’t really take it on board: there were 14 other All Blacks on the pitch that day. Amid all the running and tackling, he just seemed to keep reaching the try line – again and again.

Overall it wasn’t even as if England played that badly – Will Carling and I scored two tries apiece in the second half – but the truth is we had been thumped in the first 20 minutes. Lomu matched us both with four tries of his own.

Looking back on that match, particularly watching replays of his tries, and seeing him steamroller over a few players who got in his way, you could argue that he was ahead of his time by five or 10 years.

Here was a great professional athlete playing right at the end of rugby’s amateur era. His opponents simply weren’t ready for that level of athletic ability.

There was also the crucial matter of timing. The 1995 World Cup was such a key moment for rugby. It was the first World Cup to involve the Springboks and the fact that South Africa hosted it, with Nelson Mandela’s full and public support, ensured that the eyes of the world were on the tournament.

It was at this moment that Jonah Lomu ran on to the stage with a performance that for me had the biggest impact of any player on any Rugby World Cup. It was a performance that helped to usher in the professional era. What a tragedy it was that his career would be cut short by his medical problems.

Lomu was unstoppable on that memorable day in South Africa

Importantly, away from the pitch Jonah was among the kindest and most respectful people you could hope to meet. I had the utmost admiration for him, and we shared the mutual respect of former opponents. In 2007 I flew to New Zealand to appear in an episode of This is Your Life that paid tribute to him.

I was proud to be a part of that small tribute to a fine human being – and am proud now, when I look back on it, to have played against one of the All Blacks’ greats. - Rory Underwood (Telegraph UK).

Thank you Rory for the tribute interview you did for our Jonah with the Telegraph.