New Zealand All Blacks great Jonah Lomu dies aged 40
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu, whose power and pace revolutionized rugby and whose humility and grace won millions of fans, died early Wednesday, New Zealand Rugby said. He was 40.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said the union was ''shocked and deeply saddened'' to learn of Lomu's unexpected death.
''Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world,'' he said. ''We're lost for words. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to Jonah's family.''
Lomu had dealt with the severe kidney ailment nephrotic syndrome since 1995 which forced his premature retirement from international rugby in 2002. He played 63 tests for the All Blacks, scoring 43 tries and was the prototype of a new type of backline player who combined pace and size.
Lomu underwent a kidney transplant in 2004 and tried unsuccessfully to resume his professional career in Wales and France after that operation and despite doctors' misgivings.
While his health seemed to improve he couldn't regain his former dominance and eventually retired from all rugby in 2006. He remained an active ambassador for the sport, however, and remained a huge fan favorite, feted around the world.
He most recently attended the Rugby World Cup in Britain in September and October, where he seemed fit and in good health and where New Zealand retained the title.
But he has battled bouts of serious ill health in recent years. In 2011 his body rejected his donor kidney and as hopeful of undergoing a second transplant operation.
Lomu was his devastating best at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups, scoring 15 tries in 11 games but never winning the trophy.
The stabbing death of a friend as a teenager steered Lomu away from street gangs in the blue-collar suburbs of Auckland where he grew up. Rugby gave him new direction. Aged just 19 for his test debut, Lomu was a colossus for a winger: 1.96 meters tall (6-foot-4); 119 kilograms (262 pounds).
Prime Minister John Key said he was deeply saddened by news of Lomu's passing.
''The thoughts of the entire country are with his family,'' Key said.