19 Nov 2015

England players grieve for Jonah Lomu

6:55 am on 19 November 2015

No country suffered more spectacularly at the hands of Jonah Lomu than England but his victims have long forgiven the All Black winger whom they held in the highest regard and were united in their grief at news of his death.

Jonah Lomu in action during the 1995 World Cup.

Jonah Lomu in action during the 1995 World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Lomu's remarkable haul of four tries, and the way he scored them, in New Zealand's semi-final demolition of England in the 1995 World Cup catapulted him to a level of fame unprecedented in the sport.

Lomu, 20 at the time and a magnificent physical specimen, brushed England's defenders aside as if they were children. And when he could not go round them, he just ran straight over them -- with fullback Mike Catt the most memorable victim as he was trodden into the Cape Town turf.

"He's 18 stone, I was 13 stone -- the rest is history," Catt told the BBC.

"I laughed at myself, I thought it was brilliant. I'm lying on the floor and (All Black lock) Robin Brooke came over to me, hit me across the cheek and said: 'Mate, that's just the start of it'.

"Lomu put me on the map. Everybody knew who Mike Catt was. All for the wrong reasons of course."

Team mate Rob Andrew said Lomu was a "a nightmare to play against.

"He was intimidating and he had a smile on his face when he did it, which made it even worse," Andrew said of the winger who scored eight tries in seven games against England, more than against any other nation.

"I was left horizontal on the ground, grasping at him. He ran over most of the team, I was just pleased he chose to run around me instead of over me.

"Those were iconic images of one of the greatest players of all time and I was privileged to play against him that day and discuss it since."

Jonah Lomu in action RWC 1995

Jonah Lomu in action RWC 1995 Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Andrew said he has a photograph of Lomu bulldozing through him -- signed by the New Zealander, who died after a near-20-year battle with kidney disease.

"There is no doubt he changed the sport," Andrew added. "It went professional after that World Cup and it was almost like Jonah was a professional athlete in amongst a bunch of amateurs.

"He wasn't just running over our backs, he was running over our forwards as well. There have been big players in the game but it was the pace and the skill of Jonah and he was 20-years-old in 1995.

"I don't think there will ever be another player who had such an impact on the world stage.

"He's one of, if not the greats, of all time."

Four years later Lomu crossed the line again as the All Blacks thumped Clive Woodward's England at Twickenham in the 1999 World Cup.

"We used to give him a huge amount of attention," Woodward told the BBC when asked what he had told his men before they faced Lomu.

"I remember saying at a team meeting on Friday night that there was nobody in their team would get in our team and man for man I wouldn't swap anybody and was doing my motivational talk.

"When I got to the end Will Greenwood put his hand up and said 'Clive, we're all with you but I think I'm speaking on behalf of all the team and I think we'd probably swap Austin Healey for Jonah Lomu.'

"It was one of those magic moments you don't forget.

"But in all seriousness, I'm just really, really sad for rugby today because he was one of the all time greats.

"And when you met him he was the nicest, nicest guy and very softly spoken. We'll miss him."