Featuring an uncanny combination of size, strength, and speed, Jonah Lomu deserves to be mentioned in any discussion about the greatest athletes of all time. During his time on the rugby pitch, the New Zealand All Blacks legend routinely punished would-be tacklers on his way to the try zone.
But less than a decade after a kidney condition forced him to retire, Lomu took his last breath.
Jonah Lomu established a reputation as an unstoppable force on the rugby pitch
Jonah Lomu made his All Blacks debut at just 19 years old. Tipping the scales at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, he boasted incredible size for a wing. And for anyone who doubted his ability to open up and run, he quickly silenced those concerns by becoming one of the most lethal weapons in the sport.
Thanks to his hulking frame and explosive power, Lomu made professional rugby players look like amateurs. He routinely broke tackles, ran over defenders, and found the try zone. While he racked up plenty of points playing for several pro teams in New Zealand, the Auckland native truly shined when he got a chance to represent his country.
From 1994-2002, Lomu competed in 63 test matches for the All Blacks. He scored 37 tries and only experienced defeat 17 times during that stretch. More importantly, he made his presence known during the IRB Rugby World Cup. As a testament to his physical dominance, he scored a record-setting 15 tries in just 11 matches. South Africa’s Bryan Habana later tied Lomu’s record in 2015.
The New Zealand All Blacks legend died unexpectedly in 2015
Jonah Lomu’s life and rugby career changed forever in 1995 when he got diagnosed with a serious kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome. Although he continued to make big plays on the pitch, he eventually had to undergo a kidney transplant in 2004. Three years later, he officially retired from the sport.
But he didn’t get an opportunity to enjoy life after rugby for long.
On Nov. 18, 2015, Lomu suffered a fatal heart attack linked to his kidney issues. He had just returned from the United Kingdom after spending some time with his family on holiday in Dubai. The 2011 IRB Hall of Fame inductee reportedly received dialysis treatments during his visit to the UK.
Lomu’s unexpected death represented a devastating blow to the rugby community. Universally respected by teammates, coaches, opponents, and fans, his passing robbed the world of an athlete who made an impact both on and off the pitch. Multiple public services were held to honor his memory, including one at Eden Park, the stadium in which Lomu made so many magical moments happen.
Where does Jonah Lomu rank among the greatest players in rugby history?
Jonah Lomu’s sudden death left a hole in the hearts of many rugby fans. At the same time, it allowed everyone to reminisce about his unparalleled career. For All Blacks fans, the talented winger probably stands atop any list of the greatest players in the history of the sport. And even for those who refuse to root for New Zealand, it’s impossible to ignore Lomu’s impact on the game.
So where does he rank among the best players to ever step foot on a rugby pitch?
Former All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw both put together Hall of Fame-worthy careers of their own. The former showcased his skills as a game-changing flyhalf. The latter used his brain (and his brawn) to become the top flanker of all time.
Other contenders include Brian O’Driscoll, who starred for Ireland for many years, and Johnny Wilkinson, who racked up more than 1,200 points in 97 test matches for England.
Still, it’s hard to argue against Lomu earning the top spot on the list. Because even though he had to retire early due to health issues, he dominated at a level unlike anything we’ve ever seen before or since.