Sad news greeted the rugby world this week with the passing of Jonah Lomu at just 40 years of age – and only a couple of weeks after his beloved All Blacks successfully retained the Web Ellis Trophy.
I was lucky enough to go to what is regularly called the “greatest game of rugby ever played”. It was at the new Olympic Stadium in Sydney and it was not just a Bledisloe Cup Test, but a test of the ability of the stadium to manage the massive crowds expected at the upcoming Olympic Games.
Here’s the video
Australia had just lost to the All Blacks in NZ, where the whole stadium appeared to be blacked-out, as supporters wore black and held aloft black placards. So the return fixture was expected to be a blockbuster.
I was despairing as I couldn’t get tickets. Then my bride (An Aussie who promotes NZ as a destination for business events) was able to buy some from her Kiwi mates. I took a client – haven’t a clue now who he was BTW.
A world record Rugby crowd of 109,874 turned up. Our tickets were at lower level near the corner post, though I didn’t know this until we arrived. We walked up from below, into a sea of Gold. The ARU had retaliated to the black-out and issued something like 60,000 gold placards and caps for Wallaby supporters on the lower levels.
Staring at this massive gold blanket, I slowly counted down the steps towards our row looking at the field to my right. When we reached the row I realised our seats were to the left. I turned to find my seat and stared straight into the 2,000 seats reserved for the All Black fans – my bride’s ticket supplier.
My client wanted to leave then and there. But we squeezed between a couple of muscly Maori blokes as the AB fans started ribbing us. We even made the giant video screen in one of those “what were they thinking” images. The entire 100,000+ crowd laughing at us stuck in the black hole of Homebush.
Then the match started. And some of the best rugby you’ve ever seen was played….. by the AB’s. They scored three tries in the first 5 minutes. Then by 11 minutes they lead 24-0. The AB’s were so impressive I grabbed a silver fern flag and started waving it frantically with all those around me.
Luckily the Wallabies joined the fray at 12 minutes and by half time the game was 24-all. We were all exhausted, so I can only imagine how the players felt.
Jonah was rampaging in his usual style, but unusually he had dropped the ball a couple of times, so I became brave and started joshing my Maori mates. “Give it to Jonah” I cried out – knowing he would drop it again and give the Wallabies the advantage. The Kiwis just waved their beers at me and smiled.
The match lead changed throughout the second half until the 80th minute, when the Wallabies held the lead. Thinking we had done a Lazarus and risen from the dead to beat the might AB’s, we started celebrating among our Kiwi brethren. But the AB’s still had the ball, so the game kept going. Then the unthinkable. Almost 4 minutes into extra time, the AB’s did something they hadn’t done for a bit.
They gave it to Jonah. Well it was more a basketball lob over one of our centres than a textbook pass.
He crashed through a bunch of tackles, tip-toed along the sideline and scored right in front of us. The AB’s won. And my newfound Maori mates just raised their beers and shouted “give it to Jonah“.
I raised mine too – because Jonah had given it to us in spectacular style. The departing crowd was the most friendly I’d ever seen between our two nations – because we all knew we had witnessed history. And I’m certainly not planning on sitting in the AB fan club again:)
And here’s another shorter version of a longer story about Jonah. It’s probably been told many times, but this was in front of about 1,200 lunch guests at Bledisloe Cup lunch at Darling Harbour the day before a match. And probably the first time it was told in Oz.
On stage was former New Zealand Captain Sean Fitzpatrick, being interviewed by former Australian Captain, Phil Kearns. Phil asked the question “Sean, how do you stop Jonah Lomu?”
Sean answered “it’s easy Phil, anyone can stop him if you know how“. Phil pressed him for more information.
Sean answered “he hates getting shit in his face, you just have to throw shit in his face and he stops running, simple“.
The audience tittered and Phil said the obvious, “there’s no shit on a rugby field, how can you throw shit in his face?”
To which Sean politely replied “mate, if Jonah Lomu is running at you, there’s plenty of shit on the rugby field.”
The audience roared laughing and Phil Kearns nearly fell out of his chair.
Vale Jonah Lomu – rugby legend…