Thousands bid farewell to rugby legend, Jonah Lomu at an emotional memorial service at Eden Park in Auckland on Monday (30 November) to celebrate the 40-year-old's life and honour the impact he had on the game. Lomu, widely considered as rugby's first global superstar, died unexpectedly on 18 November. He had been suffering from a kidney disease for two decades and was awaiting a second transplant after having one in 2004.
The public service was the final chance for his compatriots to pay their respects before a private funeral service later this week. Lomu's casket was carried to a specially built stage by former team mates, before his wife, Nadine kissed a family photo and walked off with their two children, Dhyreille and Brayley.
Many of the speakers at the service referred not only to Lomu's abilities on the field but what he did off it, making time for every autograph hunter and providing hope to sick children and their families with hospital visits and attending fundraising events. World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset, who travelled from Paris, said Lomu was "a giant" both in and out of the game.
"His contribution to rugby cannot be overstated. He terrified the defences and thrilled the spectator's with a brand of running rugby that had never been seen before at the highest level. Through his sheer brilliance and love of the game he brought much joy to the rugby family and took our sport to a new level of profile," said Lapasset.
Several remarked on his impact as a role model for children in South Auckland, which has a high proportion of Pacific Island families who related to Lomu, who was of Tongan heritage. One such tribute was a specially written song performed by a group of students from Favona Primary School in Mangere, which Lomu attended. Former All Blacks coach and family spokesman, John Hart, gave an emotional farewell to Lomu.
"Jonah, you were many things to many people. You were a freak on the field and gentle, caring giant off it. A loving husband, dad, son and brother. But, most of all you were a lovely, lovely man. Officially, we salute All Black number 941, but to the world you will be known as the All Black who made number 11 his own. Rest in peace my friend," he said.