Wellington - Retiring All Black captain
Richie McCaw paid an emotional tribute to Jonah Lomu on Thursday, saying people
the world over were hurting after the legendary wing's shock death.
McCaw said Lomu's humility even after he
became a superstar set an example the All Blacks still aspired to, while New
Zealand Rugby chief Steve Tew credited him with saving the game of rugby union.
Announcing his long-anticipated retirement,
McCaw opened his Wellington press conference with a minute's silence for Lomu,
who died Wednesday aged 40.
McCaw said lining up beside him on his
international debut in Ireland was one of the highlights of his 148-Test career
as he had worshipped the player since the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.
"I remember watching that World Cup
and going into that World Cup final (thinking) 'just get the ball to
Jonah'," he said.
"That's the impact he had on a young
fella like myself.
"Then you hear the stories that he was
the reason that a lot of the big money came into the game, to get hold of
McCaw has been hailed as the greatest rugby
player of all time after a 15-year career that included a record 148 Test caps,
two World Cup wins and three World Rugby player of the year awards.
But Lomu is remembered as perhaps the most
exciting, sending a jolt through crowds when he took the ball as fans wondered
whether he would speed away from opponents or simply trample over them.
All Black coach Steve Hansen said if it was
not for the kidney disease that eventually claimed his life, Lomu might be the
player being talked about as the best ever, rather than McCaw.
"He was a phenomenal athlete and could
do things that other people couldn't do that's recognised by the whole world,"
Tew said Lomu was at this thrilling best in
1995, when the game was struggling with the transition to professionalism and
its very existence was threatened.
"The things that Jonah achieved,
particularly in a couple of games, raised the eyebrows of some people who had a
significant amount of money," he said.
"That was at the point where the game
was about to be lost. If the potential for the game hadn't have been
demonstrated by Jonah, we might well not be sitting here."
Rugby legend, never confirmed, is that
seeing Lomu in 1995 convinced media magnate Rupert Murdoch about rugby's
potential and he subsequently signed a major deal for southern hemisphere
McCaw admitted he agonised over the timing
of his retirement announcement, less than 24 hours after Lomu's death, but
decided to proceed and pay his respects.
He said Lomu may have paved the way for
rugby's commercialisation but he never let fame go to his head, a trait current
players tried to emulate.
"He was the superstar and I think the
way he held himself paved the way for what's expected for the rest of the New
Zealand rugby players and All Blacks who have gone since," he said.