JONAH LOMU : THE REBIRTH OF THE PHOENIX

Jonah LomuHe had to leave the field in 2003 to have a kidney transplant, but quitting rugby was never his intention. It is now high time for the superstar Jonah Lomu to return, and he has chosen the South of France for his come back.

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If there were still to be rumours, they have definitely been confirmed by this score on Sunday 22nd November : 63-18. Legendary Jonah Lomu has played his first game amongst the French semi-professional Marseille-Vitrolles team – and they won, announces the Guardian.

Although the 34-year-old former All Black did not score any try, he said he was to be “rather satisfied”. The third division rugby team was playing in front of 2,500 fans. Lomu also added “This was my first match, I was not expecting a miracle”. And indeed, he did not touch the ball once during the first twenty minutes, reminds BBC Sport.

Catching the ball was not the only difficulty encountered by the famous “Black” : language seems to have been an obstacle, according to Lomu, who said : “It was a little difficult to understand my team-mates who were talking very fast in French”.

Since his debut in 1994 with the All Blacks, Jonah Lomu has been capped 63 times by the New Zealand national team. Unfortunately, Lomu’s career was cut short by a kidney transplant in 2003. Following this operation, the New-Zealander played for Welsh side Cardiff in 2005-06 and retired in 2007. He finally signed a two-year contract for Marseille earlier this year, to play at centre.

A game “about sickness and life”.

jonah-lomu marseilles.jpgThis first game was important for Jonah Lomu and for his team, of course. But as Claude Atcher, Marseille president, reminded : “This [was] more that a rugby match, it [was] more about sickness and life”. According to Atcher, Lomu was “very intense, much more than he normally is”.

In an interview for BBC Sport in 2004 already, Jonah Lomu was giving the reasons why he finally got the transplant : « A normal male has a blood count of around 140, I’ve never been 100. That gives you an idea of how serious this was. When I was playing I felt tired all the time. My recovery period was a lot longer than the other players. They’d be ok after an hour – I’d have to stay in bed till the next session. Towards the end of 2003 it was hard to get through training – and the darkest point was when a doctor told me there was a possibility I could end up in a wheelchair. Me in a wheelchair? It was scary. »

At this point, enjoying a new normal life was not an option for the man who was considered by many as the greatest rugby player of all times : “I’m definitely going to have a crack at playing rugby again, the level doesn’t really matter”.

His long-term goal at this point was the 2007 World Cup, but he knew he had got “a long way to go before that”.

The god that reigns over the game “played by gentlemen”.

jonah_2D00_lomu_2D00_all_2D00_black.jpgIn the UK, an old saying goes « Football is a gentleman’s game played by thugs and rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen ». New Zealand is one of the rare countries of the rugby union to consider this game as popular, played amongst working class communities.

Jonah Lomu is generally regarded as the first true global superstar of rugby union. This is partly due to the fact that he is one of the most intimidating player’s on the field, which gives him a huge impact on the game.

Lomu burst onto the international rugby scene in 1994 and was widely acknowledged to be the top player at the 1995 World Cup in South-Africa even though New Zealand lost the championship game to the host Springboks.

Lomu played for several provincial teams amongst which the Wellington Hurricanes, the Counties Manukau, the Wellington Lions and later the North Harbour.

He was inducted to the International Rugby Hall of Fame on 9 October 2007.

In its 2004 Interview, BBC Sport tells about him that “he was built like a second row, ran like a wing and caused absolute mayhem in the opposition’s ranks. » In 1995, within 20 minutes of New Zealand’s World Cup semi-final against England the match was virtually over, the opposition reduced to rubble by the bulldozing Lomu. He scored four tries that day. For the next eight years, he continued to ravage Super 12 and international defences, playing 63 Tests for the All Blacks, scoring 37 tries.

But later, his kidney left the 6ft 5″ winger at a disadvantage – and he revealed that he was never 100% fit : « I always say to people that you have never seen the best of me, and that’s what I mean – I’ve never been fully fit”, he said.

The body-buikding interlude.

Now 34, Jonah Lomu took up body-building to get fit ahead of his planned rugby comeback. He said that hiw new hobby had helped him lose more that 30kgs in the last six months, according to BBC Sport.

jonah lomu mr new zealand.jpgIt was also a good way to show his children he was “a great exemple and (…) a great dad”. He even sees the competition he took part to as a good message to those who, like him, had received kidney transplants.

Because the ex champion managed to settle for the second place in his first competition at the Wellington Bodybuilding Championships, which is a kind of “Mister New Zealand” contest.

The end of a career under the French sun.

According to Lomu, Marseille president, Claude Achter, did not need more than one night in Paris, with one dinner only, to convince the former All Black to play for Marseille-Vitrolles.

Achter had maybe read the 5-Minute Interview given by the player in 2007 to the Independent in which he was saying that to him, “the ideal night out” was “A night in Paris, wining and dining, maybe some dancing afterwards”. We do not know if there was any dancing, but the dinner must have been good, for Lomu to accept to play for “only” 5,000€ a month (£4,560). Actually, according to Direct Sport, Achter did not even need to mention any money, but simply the size of the city of Marseille, the importance of football there and the will to promote rugby.

And if Lomu admits he was not perfectly fit for his first game, he stays quite optimistic. He says he has already reached his right weight of 199kgs, a weight he had not been able to reach since… 1999 ! His physical capacities should then even get better and better.

As for his mental side, he seems to be more than fine, since he assures he feels like a 16-year-old teenager. “I will keep on rebuilding myself, slowly but for sure”, says he, adding “we can actually say it is a rebirth, that I am living right now”.

A rebirth to a second life that Lomu intends to end in Marseille, according to his interview of Friday 27 November in Direct Sport. The contract was signed for three years, but Lomu wants to end his career in Marseille.

Jonah Lomu must enjoy being amongst new players, in a new city, he who affirms that the idea of him being unapproachable is only a misperception of him, mostly because of his size. He says he always tries “to put people at ease”.

French women who find him attractive should be glad to hear that, since the rugby player has divorced his second wife in 2008. But these news should even please all rugby players and enjoyers more, since the “World Cup all-time top try scorer (with 15 tries) is more than a legend : he has become an example, for years, now, and not only to any player, but especially to those ones who now play without him in the New Zealand All Black team, like the great Dan Carter, elected best world player in 2005. He probably followed Lomu’s philosophy, which is, in a nutshell : “Having the power within”.

Chloé Chateau