Jonah Lomu: How 80 minutes changed the game of rugby forever

Full video report by ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott

The day before New Zealand’s recent World Cup triumph at Twickenham, I was reminiscing with legendary All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick about that semi-final with England in 1995.

He admitted it was the most extraordinary game he’d ever played in and that it was a game he was genuinely concerned about losing at the time. He needn’t have been. The All Blacks had the game won inside 15 minutes – thanks entirely to Jonah Lomu.

I was pitch-side that day and witnessed something I’d never seen before. Or since. One player beating an entire team almost single-handedly.

Even the majestic Jonny Wilkinson, who saw England over the line many times in his career, needed his team mates to get him into position before he could accumulate points.

In Cape Town 20 years ago, it didn’t seem to matter where on the field Lomu picked the ball up - he ran around or through England’s hapless defence.

Before the match, I asked England’s full back Mike Catt about the prospect of bringing the colossal man down.

His response “If we can close him down quickly, he’s nothing really, his ankles are the same size as mine I think…”

In just two minutes he might have regretted that observation as Lomu trampled over him to score the first of his four tries. Just as Tony Underwood, who was made to look like a terrified schoolboy that afternoon, probably regretted winking at Lomu at the end of the Haka.

England's Tony Underwood feels the force of a tackle from Jonah Lomu during the Rugby World Cup semi final in 1995 Credit: PA

But what Lomu did that day changed not just that game, but The Game.

Here was a 6ft 5in man, 19 stones of muscle, who could run like an Olympic sprinter, what is more he played on the wing! That was big for a forward in those days.

Underwood was eight inches shorter and six stones lighter and when he got anywhere near Lomu he actually looked even smaller than that.

Ironically New Zealand’s strength became their weakness in the final – South Africa planned to cope with a Lomu onslaught and countered it when it came.

New Zealand didn’t have a plan B because they hadn’t needed it the entire tournament.

But rugby, on the verge of professionalism, had found a new poster boy and found it easier to sell their sport as a result.

Jonah Lomu in action Credit: PA

Sean Fitzpatrick, reflecting on his team mate's death today, said what he loved about Lomu was that global popularity never changed him.

Despite the fact that he had become the first (and probably still the only) rugby player who could barely walk down a street anywhere in the world without being stopped or photographed, he remained humble.

In New Zealand they have a saying that “good men make great All Blacks”. Jonah Lomu was every inch one of those and more besides.