The Greatest a Rugby World Cup has seen. October 12 2019, 0 Comments
It takes a lot to leave rugby motormouth Keith Quinn speechless and just as much to put a smile on the face of Laurie Mains.
Jonah Lomu achieved both with what remains the greatest individual performance the Rugby World Cup has seen.
Lomu's barging run over the top of England fullback in the 1995 World Cup semifinal in Cape Town was so outrageous that classy Kiwi TV commentator Quinn was literally lost for words as the unbelievable unfolded in front of him.
Then I witnessed Lomu achieve something I'd never seen before – he had his All Blacks coach Mains actually smiling.
From the comfort of the media benches at the Newlands ground I watched history unfold in front of me as a baby-faced Lomu shredded England with the signature performance of his outstanding career.
Mains was seated not far away. After Lomu scored the fourth of his remarkable tries on that historic day, I turned to see what Laurie's reaction was.
He was beaming. The normal furrows had gone, his face alight with a huge smile. Mains knew he and his team were heading to the final.
But he also knew he had someone truly special in his ranks. Like everyone at the ground, he was incredulous at the deeds of the hulking man in the black No 11 jersey.
It took a lot to make Laurie Mains smile. He was a hard taskmaster, an earnest coach, firm but fair, totally dedicated to his teams and a quest for success.
Fairly or unfairly, some of us media had dubbed him "Funeral Face" but his face was joyful as his team buried England.
Mains took charge of the All Blacks at a dark time, when they were emerging from their 1991 World Cup semifinal defeat. Slowly but surely he transformed them. While his crowning glory sadly wasn't the 1995 world title, he did oversee the belated emergence of a flowing style of rugby that had Lomu providing the exclamation marks.
Lomu's notorious training struggles certainly didn't endear him to his coach. At that point no one knew of Lomu’s struggles with his illness aside from his doctor. Despite his medical condition, he never gave up!
Lomu persisted, fighting extra hard with his fitness during the buildup camps to convince Mains he was worthy of a chance on the sport's biggest stage.
Lomu's next test was the World Cup opener against Ireland in Johannesburg, where he scored his first two test tries.
He was under way with bigger things to come.
Laurie was laughing – he and Lomsmiles were appearing on more than the All Blacks and their fans.
Lomu was one of those rare sporting icons who had the ability to cheer people from any nationality and any walk of life.
His Cape Town capers were the stuff of dreams for the faithful band of coloured supporters living there, who would rather back Lomu than the Springboks.
Lomu was their hero as much as New Zealand's.