Three things Jonah did at 18 you’ll never do

Having Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen in one sevens team seems slightly unfair, but that’s what we put on the field in Hong Kong in 1994 .

This clip crams more jaw-dropping moments into its one minute and twenty one seconds than spending three weeks in a Led Zep private jet. Here’s three things  you’ll never be able to do, ever. 

One – 00’14”
Under (admittedly English) pressure on the sideline,  Lomu spots Cullen unmarked about 40 metres away – and picks him out with a gridiron-style overarm pass. My good-for-nothing-but-working-a-mouse hands can’t even hold a rugby ball like that. Cullen scores.

Two – 00’38”
In the middle of flying down the wing, Lomu screeches to a complete halt – then two steps later is back up to full tilt. Would-be English tacklers are not just physically unable to compete, they’re also very confused. Campese’s goose step is, immediately consigned to the wheelie bin of history.  Cullen scores.

Three – 01’01”
Lomu runs around two hapless Irish tackers and goes to swerve inside another. Peskily, he doesn’t go away, so he gets that stooping, dump truck fend Mike Catt’s so familiar with. Cullen’s there, but Lomu scores.

Anyway. We’ve heard the old stories a lot the last couple of days. After Hong Kong he became the youngest All Black ever, then came 1995 and South Africa and becoming the biggest name in the game at 20.

Despite Jonah’s record, there was always someone willing to argue he shouldn’t be in the team after that initial 1995 run died down. That was stupid. He could do things other people couldn’t – if he wasn’t in a position to swerve around you or step you, he had simply running over you up his sleeve.

To me, he seemed most at home in cosmopolitan Wellington, playing in that outrageous Lomu / Cullen / Umunga / erm, O’Halloran backline in front of all those crazy fans, when the cake tin was still a novelty. They should have won a title.

You never imagine brick shithouses need much looking after, but seeing him crying on the Homes show and having a succession of people around him with questionable motives, you always felt a bit protective of Jonah. Despite his all consuming love for competing, it was a relief to see the end of the rugby and boxing comeback attempts, for the worry of what he might do to himself in the process.

On one level it seems a shame his last few weeks were spent on sponsors duties, but he had his family with him, and getting out and meeting people was something he seemed to love doing. And who are we to judge? Everyone that had the pleasure talked about his genuine, open manner, and there are untold stories of his generosity.

We were lucky to have him, and that mid-career tall-poppy carry on is well and truly in the past. We won’t know how he’d have played fully fit, nor what he’d have gone on to do with his immense mana the world over as a rugby or UNICEF figurehead, or a dad. What ever he did, it would have been big and hard to stop, I’m sure.

Author: Richard Irvine

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