The giant wing had stumbled as he approached the flailing Catt at Newlands, regained his balance, and kept on going to the tryline, and beyond. The legend was born.


The game of rugby, the country of New Zealand, sports fans around the world were entranced by the sight of a man who was bigger than the average forward and faster than above average backs. He charged with ball in hand like no one else before or even since, in the mind's eye anyway. The Catt-flattening moment etched Lomu in glistening stone. Just how far his name and influence reached, who knows. But he was global in the rugby sense.

Hearing of Lomu's death took the breath away. It was a shocking moment. He was only 40. Grief. Disbelief. Anyone who knew of his battle with kidney disease, who witnessed the frail figure appear out of the gloom at the 2011 rugby World Cup opening, who later read about the state of his health at the time, had to fear for him. But you lock those thoughts away.

The legend of Lomu will never fade, because he was truly unique. There have been attempts, and fair ones, at comparing the current All Black colossus Julian Savea to his predecessor, but on a certain level comparison is pointless.

One is an outstanding and destructive wing. The other will always be a superstar who did actually transcend his sport, to a degree that All Black naysayers never even wanted to lay a hand on him. He was loved in faraway parts, perhaps even more so than he was in his own land.

Lomu was a signpost, to when players would possess power and athleticism which the hapless Catt could certainly have utilised in that never to be forgotten semifinal in South Africa. Lomu's life was also more than ordinary - his personal affairs came to light in a way not usual in New Zealand sport. From a tough upbringing, the deterioration in the relationship with a father figure manager, to marriages, the terrible illness, a kidney transplant, the dialysis treatment, it was all laid bare.

This is not meant to be unkind, but at times Lomu appeared adrift, in a zone of his own. Ravaged by illness, he contemplated a comeback that was pure fantasy, egged on by believers or un-challenged by bystanders who couldn't distinguish a man from the super hero.

Of course he wasn't the perfect rugby player, and it is hard to judge how much the illness held him back before it took a more terrible and obvious hold. At his best and close to it, he was absolutely devastating and a sight to behold. Just this week, while trundling down the Lomu memory lane, came the sight of him storming down the sideline to in-pass and set up a try for Pita Alatini in Sydney during the miraculous test of 2000. He was unstoppable before a crowd of 110,000, in one of the greatest games ever played.

A friend told me of playing against Lomu at school on three occasions, and in the first year the big kid laughed while swatting off defender after defender. It's a nice image to hold on to, of a young man on the rise revelling in the freedom and joy of youthful sport. Life had already been tough, we were to learn, and was to hit Lomu both gloriously and hard. He was one of the very few, for which fame is beyond anything they can prepare for or the rest of us can relate to or understand.

This is a time to celebrate that life, his deeds and a humble, warm demeanour. But to die so young, especially when he was desperate to watch his children grow up, is a tragedy. A very sad day for all of us.

By Chris Rattue