Jonah Lomu may not have been the force of All Blacks nature he once was when he signed for Cardiff on this day in 2005, but his brief cameo in Wales was a testament to his enduring pulling power. When the Blues announced that the former New Zealand wing was joining them on a short-term contract, they described him as “rugby’s first global superstar”, and the excitement in the Welsh capital was palpable.
Lomu had last played for the All Blacks three years earlier and had undergone a kidney transplant which his body later rejected after being diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a rare condition which had left him needing dialysis three times a week.
As a 19st, 6ft 5in, 20-year-old winger with a 10.8-second 100m to his name, he had burst on to the international stage in spectacular style, destroying England with a four-try haul as New Zealand romped to a 45-29 World Cup semi-final victory in Cape Town in 1995.
Those days were behind him by the time he set foot in Cardiff, but he was still a major attraction. He had signed for domestic provincial side North Harbour in April 2005, but having been sidelined by a shoulder injury, took up the offer to play through the off-season in Wales.
Lomu made his debut in a Heineken Cup game in Calvisano and a crowd of 11,764 – around treble that which might have been expected had he not been playing – turned up at the Arms Park for the return.
In all, he made 10 appearances for the Blues and scored one try, but his professionalism on and off the field and his humility and personal magnetism left a lasting impression. He tragically died in November 2015 at the age of just 40.
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