Diary entry: September 2015 – Highlight
Jonah Lomu is a rugby icon and hero for many New Zealanders. Growing up, Jonah Lomu was one of those names that any young Māori boy would aspire to be like one day.
I have childhood memories of Jonah ‘steam rolling’ the English fullback in the early morning world cup game and holding onto hope that someone would pass him the ball in the 1999, rugby world cup semi-final against France to save the day. I can still remember those moments so clearly despite only being at primary school at the time.
During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Jonah Lomu was in the UK as the cup ambassador and holding his own ‘Unstoppable UK tour 2015’.
We at Ngati Rānana were fortunate to be asked to be a part of both these events with the man himself. What an honour!
The Mastercard Covenant Garden haka was our first performance with him. We arrived there at 5am to get ready and rehearse. Jonah and his whanau (family) were there and despite all the pressure and requirements on him, he still found time to have a chat and laugh with us.
Our final performance with Jonah was on the last evening event of his “Unstoppable Tour”. There were other guests attending that evening such as NZ Prime Minister John Key and former English rugby player Martin Johnson but Jonah and his whanau will always hold the centre-piece in my memory of the evening.
We performed a haka pōhiri (welcome haka/ceremony) to welcome Jonah, his whanau and John Key into the room. Later that night during dinner we again returned to the stage to perform our concert bracket. Jonah took the stage and before the performance of the haka ‘ka mate’, as one of the leaders of the group I was privileged to give a brief kōrero and present Jonah with a taonga as a koha from the rōpū. Ngati Rānana also donated £200 to Jonah’s charity.
After the performance I had a chat with Jonah and he expressed how proud he was of haka, Māori culture and the fact that his children could see him perform the haka again. He also said that at times he was whakamā (shy) about doing the haka to which I responded that he should never feel like that as we the Ngati Rānana, (and I’m sure Māoridom would also agree) would always have his back.
Highlights of the evening included:
- Hearing Jonah speak of his background associated with gang violence, which led his mother to send him to Wesley College. Through the belief of his loved ones and coaches he was able to push through the hardships of his past to achieve success in our national sport.
- The hilarious rivalry between himself and Taine Randell in who could eat the most muffins. They ate a whole café out of their muffins and would have kept going if their team manager didn’t intervene.
- John Key reporting on comments made from All Blacks captain Richie Mccaw stating they are going to thump Australia in the final – in which they did!
- John Key declining my invitation to join us on stage to perform ka mate haka with us – aroha mai (sorry) John I had to mention it!
By the end of the evening you could see the how tired he was just by looking in his eyes and despite my attempts to try herd the kapa on so that they would stop hassling him for photos, he put his hand on my shoulder and said “its fine” as it was the least he could do.
He then proceeded to take photos with any member of the group that wanted one. This was the biggest expression of the size of this man’s heart and I will always remember him for his kindness and how much he put others first.
This wasn’t the last time we saw Jonah for those of us who made the squad to perform at RWC 2015 final, fate would have it that we ended up in the green room with him as he was doing commentary for Heineken.
Learning of his passing came as shock for the world especially as we were with him less than a month before. Seeing the initial posts on Facebook had me thinking that this must be some kind of social media trick like when posts on Facebook went viral that Morgan Freeman apparently died a few years ago. However, as more credible sources started releasing similar information, it then dawned on me that this was far from a hoax.
I will always keep the memory of the time I met one of my childhood hero’s close to my heart and remember how he was far more than I ever expected. Not only was he great in stature, he was kind hearted humble and very respectful. A role model for many and will always be missed by the world of rugby.
Last performance for his Unstoppable UK Tour September 2015:
Unstoppable tour website: