Heartfelt UAE tribute to New Zealand rugby legend Jonah Lomu

Matt Jones - Editor 20:26 18/11/2015
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  • The All Blacks legend is pictured in Queenstown in 1999.

    As the rugby world comes to terms with losing one of the most iconic players to ever grace a field, Apollo Perelini is just going to miss his friend.

    Former Samoan dual code international star Perelini and the man mountain renowned as a gentle giant have been friends since childhood.

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    Perelini recalls how he and Lomu would play touch together in their native New Zealand, and although he watched him develop into rugby’s biggest star, Lomu would retain his kind and grounded personality.

    “He’s right up there among rugby’s greats. He was the first global superstar that rugby had. When people talk about legends of the game, he is a legend,” Perelini told Sport360.

    “People know more about Jonah Lomu than any other rugby player in this world. People forget famous players of yesterday but no-one will ever forget Jonah.

    “But he was someone who was very humble. He loved his family and was a practical joker too, he liked a laugh and we always had a giggle.

    “He used to tell my kids that he used to look up to me and I always laughed and said ‘no, you’re always looking down at people Jonah’.

    “We were close and I’ve lost a good friend. The world’s lost a lovely man.”

    Perelini has coached in the UAE for the last seven years but the bond between him and Lomu never weakened, and the man who still jointly holds the record for most tries scored at a Rugby World Cup would often come to visit.

    “Without fail whenever he was in Duabi he’d always drop in,” Perelini said of Lomu, who received regular dialysis treatment in the Emirates.

    “One day he was here having his dialysis in Al Barsha, then he turned up to training and surprised the kids.

    “He said ‘I’ll come over. Don’t announce me coming, I’ll just turn up’. That was Jonah. He always had time for people, always made time. He’d always make an effort.”

    Lomu had a close affiliation with the UAE in general and was in Dubai just days before his death, enjoying a break with his wife Nadene and two young sons at Madinat Jumeirah before returning home following his ‘UNSTOPPABLE’ UK tour during the Rugby World Cup.

    He was also the guest of honour at the inaugural Sport360 UAE Rugby Annual Awards in 2014.

    Lomu with UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) secretary general Qais Al Dhalai at the inaugural Sport360 UAE Rugby Annual Awards in 2014.

    UAE Rugby Federation secretary general Qais Al Dhalai had spent time with Lomu and his family during his last few days.

    “It’s really sad for me, I just can’t express my feelings,” said Al Dhalai.

    “Jonah and the whole family were together with my family on Monday, and I was talking to Jonah and Nadene while they were at the lounge waiting to take off to Auckland. Jonah wasn’t only a close friend but a brother.”

    Prior to the World Cup, Lomu had made an impromptu appearance at UAE sevens training in July.

    Former UAE rugby performance manager Roelof Kotze described him as not just a great rugby player, but a great person.

    “He was a very humble guy, liked being out there and seeing what he could do for younger players,” said the South African.

    “As a player he changed the game. Up until he came along people always assumed if you were big then you were slow, but he proved that wrong.

    “In all respects he should have been in the forwards but had the ability to play in the backs.

    “There’s no doubt he’s one of the most iconic rugby players ever and he’ll go down as one of the greats. Tiger Woods is golf in many respects and Jonah is that character for rugby, he put rugby on the map.”