Jonah Lomu: All Black rugby great dies, age 40

Story highlights

  • Rugby legend dies, age 40, in Auckland
  • Lomu scored 37 tries for the All Blacks
  • Player had long suffered from kidney disease

(CNN)Former New Zealand international rugby star Jonah Lomu, widely regarded as one of the game's finest players ever, died in Auckland early Wednesday aged 40, according to New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew.

"I can confirm the incredibly sad news that we've lost another All Black great. (Jonah Lomu) died at his home this morning," Tew said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon local time.
An earlier statement by Tew on the official New Zealand Rugby Union Twitter account said:
    "We're all shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden death of Jonah Lomu.
    "We're lost for words and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jonah's family... Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world."
    Lomu's family also confirmed the news and appealed for privacy.
    Tew said that few details about Lomu's sudden, unexpected death were known at this point but that the rugby community should reflect on the contribution that he had made. Since bursting onto the scene in the mid-1990s his "contribution to the game brought it to another level. He was probably the game's first superstar."

    Tributes pour in

    New Zealand Prime Minister John Key expressed his condolences on Twitter.
    "Deeply saddened to hear of Jonah Lomu's unexpected passing this morning," he wrote. "The thoughts of the entire country are with his family."
    Former teammates and fellow All Blacks also added to the chorus of praise for an exceptional player.
    Dan Carter, who helped New Zealand win the 2015 World Cup in his final international match, posted a short message on his Facebook page, sending his condolences to Lomu's family.
    Lomu's first international captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, shared the sentiment and called him "a very special person."
    "Jonah was one of Auckland's greatest sons," Auckland Mayor Len Brown said.
    "He was an icon who New Zealanders from every walk of life respected both for his prowess on the rugby field and for the way he dealt with his health issues."
    The Australian Rugby Union team's official Twitter account put aside traditional All Black-Wallabies rivalries to honor the rugby great, saying "Our thoughts go out to Jonah Lomu's family, (the) All Blacks, and the rugby community. A legend of the game."

    Unstoppable on the pitch

    Lomu was one of the game's all-time greats, scoring 37 tries in 63 Tests for the All Blacks in an international career spanning eight years, from 1994 to 2002. His career total, including club games and rugby sevens games -- of which he was also a double world champion -- was 160 tries over 212 games, a comparatively short career.
    Originally a rugby league player, he switched codes in time for his breakout tournament, the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.
    In that tournament, he steamrollered over teams, scoring seven tries, and most notably demolished England with a four-try performance in the semifinals. Dubbed the "Muhammad Ali of rugby," by then-England captain Will Carling, Lomu's blistering speed and strength meant that he could sprint 100 meters (109 yards) in under 10.8 seconds, despite weighing 120 kg (265 lb).
    Asked about his favorite memories of Lomu, Tew said: "Anybody of my generation will remember a World Cup game where he ran over a couple of guys in white shirts," referring to the hapless 1995 England team.
    He is the joint-highest try scorer at the Rugby World Cup, joined this year by South Africa's Bryan Habana. He also is the holder of the record for most meters made in World Cup competition, at 1,219m (4,999 ft). He was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in October 2011.
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    Career cut short

    A stellar career was likely cut short by a rare kidney condition, Nephrotic syndrome, which he was diagnosed with in 1995. He underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.
    He had returned to New Zealand from the United Kingdom hours before his death, according to CNN affiliate TVNZ, where he was acting as a corporate spokesperson for events surrounding the Rugby World Cup, which concluded at the end of October. New Zealand won that final against rival Australia 34-17.