This has been an emotionally difficult time for supporters of rugby around the world, but particularly in New Zealand.
After the highs of the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have had to cope with the loss of two of the giants of the game within a couple of days, but for very different reasons.
Jonah Lomu died after a long fight against kidney disease. Richie McCaw, the most respected rugby captain in the world, announced his retirement after a record 148 Test match appearances. The end of an era, almost certainly.
Nothing in rugby compared with Jonah Lomu in 1995 and again in 1996 with New Zealand and the Auckland Blues. He redefined what could be done, physically, on a rugby field. He could outsprint the fastest on the outside and that made him just about impossible to tackle, because once an opponent is reduced to trying to tackle him with one trailing arm, all is lost.
Opponents could not stop him, but his life-threatening kidney disease did. Without that, I believe he could have become rugby’s greatest ever player.
He had a kidney transplant in 2004 and thanks to his personal courage and determination he returned to the top levels of the sport. So much so that he was nominated for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award in 2006.
I remember saying at the time, back in 2006: “Jonah completed the most extraordinary comeback I've ever witnessed in rugby. He shouldn't be here really, we could have lost him altogether. Without the good fortune of quickly getting an exact kidney match and the operation, it was looking extremely grim."
The transplant gave Jonah a few more years, but we lost him far too soon. I am sure that as Richie McCaw was announcing the end of his own remarkable career, he would have been thinking about Jonah.
While we mourn Jonah, we applaud the career of Richie McCaw. He will be hard to replace, as was Jonah. Two giants of the sport who will be long remembered.
- Sean Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy