Lomu who?

It’s now an official sport of the Olympics!  (Well, the 2016 Olympics anyway.)  Congratulations to the International Rugby Board (IRB) and those involved in convincing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to have Rugby Sevens (a faster paced 7-a-side version of the 15 player game) in the Olympic Games. 


“We have already seen massive growth in the popularity of sevens through the world series and Commonwealth Games,” says Gordon Tietjens, coach for the Niu Sila / New Zealand Sevens team. “The pace of the game and having real athletes out there scoring tries – that’s what people want to see; a fast, exciting game.”

But some commentators have said the support and contribution of Jonah Lomu was a key figure as rugby persuaded the Olympic movement to include Sevens in their ranks for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Back in 2003, I remember when I was at uni, and a research company approached a group of us Pacific Islanders to particpate in a focus group session, where we were promised free pizza in exchange for our views.  Always keen for a free feed, me and my mates went down to answer the nice lady’s questions.

The questions ranged from sports, to politics, to personal values.  But one question that did stick out was when we were asked to give our opinion of lakapi / rugby player Jonah Lomu (of Tongan descent).  The nice researcher lady was quite taken aback at our reactions.  The majoirty of the group (including me) didn’t like the guy at all!

For those not familiar with Lomu, he is a former All Black that had the power and ‘Polynesian flair’ that wowed the rugby world.  Despite having just two All Black caps, Lomu was included in the squad for the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.  Jonah stunned international rugby audiences (and unsuspecting players) at the 1995 World Cup, when he scored seven tries in five matches, including four in the semi-final against England.  In his first ever World Cup match, against Ireland in Johannesburg, he scored two tries in the 43–19 win.  In the All Blacks’ quarter final, Jonah scored a try in the 48–30 win over Scotland at Loftus Versfeld. He shocked the 51,000 that packed into Newlands in Cape Town to see the semi-final against England, as he notched up four tries in the 45–29 defeat of the English, including a try in which he ran straight through England fullback Mike Catt.

The image of Lomu stomping all over Catt helped create the rugby sensation that he became.  He is generally regarded as the first true global superstar of rugby union.  One of the sport’s most intimidating players on the field, he has had a huge impact on the game.  He was inducted to the International Rugby Hall of Fame on 9 October 2007.

So why did we not like the guy?  Despite being a role model in the rugby world (especially a Polynesian role model), his personal life was littered with examples of how not to be a Polynesian. 

He has been married and divorced twice and is now living with his third partner, who was herself married when she met Jonah.  Nothing to hang the man for, but it was the way he handled these relationships, which, once aired in the media made many Polynesians cringe, and wonder what happened to this South Auckland hero.

In 1996, shortly after the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Lomu married South African Tanya Rutter and she moved to live in New Zealand.  Four years later in 2000, they were divorced.  Then in August 2003, Jonah married his second wife Fiona (who also became his personal manager with a firm hand on all his finances) in a secret ceremony on Waiheke Island.  A week later they held a party on the island for approximately 160 guests.  Yet it became apparent that Lomu’s mother was not invited to the secret wedding. 

In December 2007, it was reported that Lomu and his second wife Fiona were taking timeout from one another.  Then in February 2008, it was then reported Lomu and his wife Fiona were divorcing.  The reason for the divorce was another woman.  Nadene Quirk was married to fringe Auckland Blues rugby player Jarek Goebel when she met Jonah in late 2007.  Goebel was understandably devastated by what happened.

At the time of the focus group, it often felt the trappings of the life of a celebrity, the world fame, the large amounts of money, the women, had all got to Lomu, and he had lost the Polynesian trait of humbleness and respect.  Although his later triumphs over sickness and his support for various causes was something to admire, his treatment of his mother at his (second) marriage ceremony never seemed to have left our minds.

When I travelled to London, Lomu was still considered a Rugby icon.  It seemed as though Lomu was famous everywhere other than here in Niu Sila.  In continental Europe, Lomu is immediately associated with Rugby.  No doubt his presence in the Olympic bid must have helped.

This is probably an unfair piece I have written about Lomu, but it takes a lot more than convincing the IOC to have the Sevens in the Olympics to erase the memory of how he treated his mother.  It goes to show, if you disrespect your mother, not even having persuasion over the world amounts to much.

0 thoughts on “Lomu who?

  1. Wow, that was some deep stuff. I didn’t know about the background of Jonah Lomu. I learned a lot from reading this. If I had to say, the best sports Role Model would have to Troy Polamalu. And I’m not saying this from an American bias, but Troy exudes the kind of character on and off the field, that is really unprecedented. While being one of the NFL’s greatest players, if not the greatest Polynesian player to ever play the game; he is a good role model for the next generation of kids to look up to. After reading this post on Mr. Lomu I can’t say that I would or even have my kids consider him to be a role model. Sure, things in life do happen, and take it for what its worth; things may not always go the way we wanted it too. But then again, if your a sports star, let alone a sports icon, that people look up to and embrace; you carry with you that responsibility to be a good example for the younger generation, at least. You got to know that everything you do is going to be critiqued and followed closely, every little screw up will be national news. “With great power, comes great responsibility…” More than most people know, these sports stars, no matter what sport it is, Rugby, American Football, Soccer, etc, carry more leverage at inspiring the youths of tomorrow than almost anyone at any other profession. These people are icons, sports sensations, global heroes; these are players that some kids inspire to be like someday. I only wish more of our brothers and sisters in sports would take upon this responsibility, and show to the next generation the right way of doing things. To live your life righteously and fruitfully. To never take anything for granted. And to succeed as a human being, both on and off the field.


  2. I remember following Jonah Lomus story right from his first game until his last. I was very proud of this polynesian rugby player who made headlines worldwide for his skill and techniques on the field. His life off the field was something I did not admire and was not proud of.At first the media praised him endlessly ……..then all of a sudden BANGGGG they were reporting all his relationship problems I even remember the pastor of the church he use to attend commenting on his relationship dramas. Im always out and about in the Wellington CBD and often see Jonah Lomu walking his dog up and down Cuba street sometimes with his CURRENT partner sometimes on his own.I smile as I pass him he smiles back nods to acknowledge me wich is very nice of him but it still dont change that one memory I have of him and what he did to his mother and family. MUCH LUV NIUZILA for yet another awesome read.You pretty much summed up in your writting what the majority of us polynesians thought about him.

  3. Oka, I didn’t even know he was divorced from Fiona. Wasn’t that the chick that all the women’s magazines said nursed him back to health.. his rock, his manager, the ‘love of his life’?. What’s up with that?

    I think your opinion about Lomu is completely valid and understandable. As someone who watches rugby only for the after party, everything I know about him is from the gossip mags… (how sad is that?) so my own personal view of Mr. Lomu is unfortunately untempered by any of his achievements in sport.

    That said, however… I don’t know of any extra-Biblical (and even then) personalities whose public images could withstand the kinda scrutiny we tend to reserve especially for our own.

    All I can say is.. I wouldn’t wanna be that guy.


  4. Thanks guys for the comments.

    Jodatoa, I must admit I’m a bit ignorant of NFL, but Troy Polamalu is def a name we all know on this side of the world. It’s inspiring to see our Samoan brothers and sisters excel in sport which ever country they are in. Samoans in the NFL is no different. But, as you say, we need to see these role models on and off the field. Big ups to our Samoan brothers rep’n it over there in the States!

    Hey memoirs_of_seki. Yeah NZ def has a tall poppy syndrome, and when someone makes something of himself, it’s all too easy for us to cut him down. Perhaps there’s a bit of that in this piece, but I’d like to think, that while the media may have played a part in exacerbating his personal issues for mainstream NZ, the way he treated his mother would be hard to explain to us Polynesians. And I don’t think he has a personality that would do such a thing, but it’s the people around him that I think have influenced his thinking. I remember he was a typical shy humble guy when he was first interviewed. But over the years, the people around him changed the guy, to not only be more confident, but also to make really bad and disrespectful decisions.

    Malo hamogeekgirl. Yeah like I said to memoirs_of_seki, media can really stir up the pot. Sometimes it’s too hard to set the record straight once the media have created their own story lines. But with Lomu, I can’t think of a good enough excuse to not invite his mother to his ‘secret’ wedding. 160 other people were apparently good enough to attend the secret party, but for some reason his mother wasn’t one of them. For that, the media didn’t need any help in spinning the story. Yip, like you said, I wouldn’t wanna be that guy.


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