Public memorial for rugby union great Jonah Lomu takes place in Auckland
The 40-year-old died in November after complications due to chronic kidney disease
Trailblazer Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 Tests for the All Blacks
A host of former All Blacks performed an emotional haka in front of thousands of mourners at a public memorial to mark the passing of New Zealand rugby union great Jonah Lomu.
The winger, renowned for his explosive style of play and labeled as the game’s first global superstar, died on November 18 aged just 40.
Lomu, who attended the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England – won by the All Blacks – had suffered from a rare and chronic kidney disease since 1995.
After a traditional Maori haka to open the service, Lomu’s coffin was carried into Eden Park – New Zealand’s largest stadium – by pallbearers that included several former All Blacks players.
His wife Nadene and their two young sons Brayley and Dhyreille followed behind, both boys wearing jerseys with Lomu’s famous number 11 on the back.
As well as several performances from the Pacific Islands community – Lomu was of Tongan descent – pupils from his former school in Auckland performed their own tribute song.
The memorial was broadcast live on New Zealand television, with Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, footballer David Beckham and actor Morgan Freeman among those to send their condolences.
Australia’s George Gregan and Tim Horan, who competed against Lomu during his playing days, were also in attendance.
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset, who traveled from Paris for the memorial, said Lomu had taken thew game to a “new level and profile” after bursting onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup.
“When I think of that amazing tournament in South Africa 20 years ago, I think of two people,” he told the crowd.
“Off the field, I think of Nelson Mandela. On the field, I think of Jonah Lomu. Both men inspired millions around the world. He will forever be a big part of rugby’s story.”
New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key said in a video message: “He proved that you can come from anywhere in New Zealand, in any background, and make it to the top.”
Eric Rush, a friend and former teammate of Lomu, paid his own tribute, saying the winger, who had previously spoken about his troubled childhood, was for a time the loneliest rugby player he’d met.
“You didn’t tell Jonah to do anything, but if you asked him, he’d run through a brick wall for you,” Rush said.
“Jonah feared no man but he did fear one person and that was his mum Hepi. When his mum said things, he acted.
“I want to thank you for sharing your son. Not just with New Zealand, but all of the world. It must have been hard because everyone wanted a piece of him.”
Lomu’s family are due to hold a private funeral in Auckland on Tuesday.