The world of sport is a much emptier place today after the tragic news of the death of All Black hero Jonah Lomu at just 40 years of age. A giant of the game of Rugby union, he almost single-handedly destroyed England’s chances at the 1995 World Cup and became a global megastar in the aftermath. Sadly his stellar career was cut short by health issues, as he suffered with kidney problems for much of his adult life.

Auckland-born hero

The Auckland-born winger of Tongan descent died at his home overnight, from where his wife Nadene issued a touching message for his fans around the world.

She spoke of her “great sadness” at the loss of her “dear husband” and asked that the privacy of the family be respected (especially their two young boys) at “this traumatic time.”

Lomu leaves behind a lasting legacy and vivid images that will long remain in the memory banks of those who witnessed his amazing exploits on the rugby field. For his proud New Zealand nation he became a true legend of the sport, playing 63 times for them and scoring 37 tries between 1994 and 2002.

His already impressive career could have been even better but for the diagnosis of a serious kidney problem at the end of 1995, a condition that ultimately forced him to have a transplant in 2004.

Rugby World Cup star

He will be forever associated with his outstanding exploits at the Rugby World Cups of 1995 and 1999.

In the South African version he quite literally trampled over English defenders on his way to four scintillating tries in the semi-final. British fans were so impressed that they voted him as the overseas personality at the 1995 Sports Personality of the Year awards.

RWC record holder

His name still adorns the World Cup record books: both himself and South Africa’s Bryan Habana are tied as all-time try scorers at the tournament on 15 scores apiece and for a single tournament with eight tries (Lomu achieved the feat in 1999).

Dedications from around the world

Dedications from his contemporaries and admirers have flooded in since the news was made known, reflecting the high esteem with which he was regarded. New Zealand chief executive Steve Tew called him a “legend of our game” who was “loved by his many fans.”

Former England centre Jeremy Guscott tweeted that “he was the most exciting rugby player ever, thank you for all the wonderful memories.” He later added that Lomu would be “always remembered and never forgotten.”

Athletic prowess

Lomu’s great speed and size was a novel development for a winger to have, a blueprint for others to follow in recent years as a potent attacking weapon.

His school sports day ‘report’ from 1989 hinted at a broad range of athletic prowess, as he competed both in track events and the throws such as discus, shot and javelin.

He was essentially the forerunner for current stars such as Wales’ George North and the Fijian colossus Nemani Nadolo to attempt to emulate. Impressive athletes with formidable strength and physique to match. He also enabled rugby to branch out and benefit from the commercial advantages available from television advertising.

Lomu ‘changed’ rugby union

Perhaps a fitting tribute was paid by England’s World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward earlier today. He recognised that Lomu was responsible for “changing rugby union” and taking the sport “to a whole new level,” during an interview with BBC Radio 4.

The fans that saw his contribution over the years would no doubt whole-heartedly concur. A great man and a wonderful sportsperson.