Jonah Lomu: Rugby's First Global Superstar Dies Aged 40

Image: All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu
All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu in 2002.Phil Cole / Getty Images, file

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By The Associated Press

Jonah Lomu, rugby's first truly global superstar, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 40.

Millions who had never watched or followed rugby were captivated by Lomu, a seemingly unstoppable force of nature as he starred on the wing for the country's All Blacks national team.

New Zealand rugby star Jonah Lomu (second right) plays against Fiji during the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.WILLIAM WEST / AFP - Getty Images, file

An imposing mountain of a man with speed to burn, Lomu burst on to the international stage at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

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He scored four times in the semi-final against England, famously trampling over fullback Mike Catt for his first touchdown. Every time he got the ball the crowd rose to their feet in anticipation as he set off in full-flight and swatted aside opposing players.

New Zealand would go on to lose to the host nation in a hard-fought final but Lomu's impact at that tournament had changed the game forever. Former and current stars of the game were quick to pay tribute on social media.

Before the end of 1995, the winger was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disease.

He began receiving treatment and missed a handful of matches over the next few years but remained a formidable presence on the pitch when he was fit and returned to his best for the 1999 World Cup in Britain, Ireland and France.

For the second time in a row, he finished as the tournament's leading try scorer, but just as in Johannesburg four years earlier, fate conspired against Lomu and the All Blacks lost to the French in what remains one of the biggest upsets in rugby history.

All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu in 2002.Phil Cole / Getty Images, file

By 2003 he was undergoing dialysis for 21 hours each week and a year later he had a kidney transplant after a New Zealand radio host donated the organ to keep him alive.

But in 2011 the replacement kidney stopped functioning and he was on a donor list for another but there was no sign his life was in imminent danger.

A gentle giant off the field, Lomu married three times and had two young sons and just last month he was in England to see the All Blacks win the World Cup.

The official cause of his death has not yet been confirmed.