VIDEO: Final Eden Park haka for Lomu

FITTING SEND-OFF: Former and present All Blacks perform a haka as All Black legend Jonah Lomu’s casket is carried out of Eden Park during his memorial service yesterday. A private funeral will be held today Picture: REUTERS
FITTING SEND-OFF: Former and present All Blacks perform a haka as All Black legend Jonah Lomu’s casket is carried out of Eden Park during his memorial service yesterday. A private funeral will be held today Picture: REUTERS

New Zealand bids farewell to All Black great

ALL Black greats united to pay tribute to legendary winger Jonah Lomu with a powerful haka yesterday as thousands of fans packed a memorial service at New Zealand rugby’s spiritual home, Eden Park. A grim-faced Buck Shelford led more than 20 former internationals in a “Ka Mate” haka while Lomu’s casket was carried to a hearse.

Former teammates including Tana Umaga, Justin Marshall and John Kirwan joined the emotional tribute on the same turf that Lomu once dominated as a player.

“Jonah, you were a freak on the field and a gentle, caring giant off it,” former All Blacks coach John Hart said.

A Maori mourning chant echoed around the Auckland stadium as Lomu’s black casket was carried through the players’ tunnel, preceded by an honour guard of tattooed warriors.

Lomu’s wife, Nadene and sons Brayley, 6, and Dhyreille, 5, wearing black shirts emblazoned with the winger’s number 11, followed with heads bowed.

Lomu died at his Auckland home last month, aged 40, from cardiac arrest related to the chronic kidney disease that cut short his playing career.

He was a beloved figure in New Zealand and the memorial ceremony was broadcast live by all major television stations.

Eden Park was a happy hunting ground for the player, who appeared in six tests at the venue and won five of them.

Hart said there could be no better place for the big man’s send-off.

“We’ve chosen Eden Park because it’s the spiritual home of rugby and somewhere that Jonah loved so much,” he said.

World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset made the 18 000km trip from France to pay his respects to a man he said helped bring the sport into the professional era.

“He’s an icon in rugby and I have to represent all the fans that Jonah had in the world,” he said.

“This fantastic man delivered a very great message about rugby to the world . . . he terrified defences and thrilled spectators with a brand of running rugby that had never been seen before.”

Tributes have poured in from across the rugby world, with many players recalling how Lomu inspired them to take up the game.

Condolences also came from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, British footballer David Beckham, Hollywood star Morgan Freeman and singer Elton John.

Former Wallaby Tim Horan said no player in the sport had ever matched Lomu’s worldwide appeal.

“He put rugby on the map globally. He helped put rugby on the map in areas where people don’t normally watch it,” he said.

Lomu scored 37 tries in his 63 tests for New Zealand, becoming rugby’s first global superstar with a combination of raw speed and brute strength.

But New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said it was a bitter defeat that showed Lomu’s true character, recalling his sportsmanship when the All Blacks suffered a shock loss to France in the semifinal of the 1999 World Cup. “. . . Jonah remained on the field until he’d shaken the hand of every single French player,” Key said in a video address from Paris where he is attending climate talks.

“More often than not, he was also the last player standing on the sideline signing autographs for young fans. That was Jonah.”

Former sevens teammate Eric Rush joked about Lomu’s prodigious appetite, his voice faltering as he remembered his friend.

“We’re going to miss you big man, rest in peace brother,” he said.

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