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Rugby legend Jonah Lomu was an ‘inspiration' to others

Jonah Lomu (Johnny Green/PA Wire)
Marie Louise McConville

STARS from the world of sport and beyond have paid tribute to legendary New Zealand rugby player Jonah Lomu, who died early yesterday at the age of 40.

Lomu, who won 63 caps for the All Blacks, had suffered from health problems since his retirement from the international game in 2002 due to a rare kidney disease.

The winger, who burst on to the international scene at the 1995 World Cup, had a stint with Cardiff Blues, for whom he played 10 matches for in 2005-06.

The star was diagnosed with the serious kidney condition nephrotic syndrome in 1996 and underwent a kidney transplant in 2004. But after it failed in 2011, he became reliant on dialysis.

In an interview with the Daily Mail in August, he had said he was hoping for a second transplant.

His wife Nadene, with whom he had two young sons, told New Zealand media his death was a "devastating loss".

The cause of his death has last night yet to be established.

New Zealand prime minister John Key extended the nation's sympathy to his loved ones.

In a tweet, he said: "Deeply saddened to hear of Jonah Lomu's unexpected passing this morning. The thoughts of the entire country are with his family."

Steve Tew, New Zealand Rugby chief, said: "Jonah was a legend of our game and loved by his many fans both here and around the world."

Jonathan Davies, former Wales fly-half, tweeted: "RIP Jonah you were a true legend and a gentleman.You changed the game of rugby and will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with your family".

Meanwhile, Belfast PR executive, Shane Finnegan, who has personally experienced transplant failure, also paid tribute to the late rugby star, describing him as an "inspiration".

Mr Finnegan underwent a high profile kidney transplant in October 2012 however the organ had to be removed due to medical complications. The kidney had been donated by former Derry GAA player Joe Brolly, who knew Mr Finnegan through St Brigid's GAC in Belfast.

Mr Finnegan said Jonah Lomu as an "inspiration because he played professional rugby after having a transplant".

"People on dialysis, they knew he had a transplant, the hope that gave them, and he went back to play professional rugby for four or five years," he said.

"I remember being diagnosed and the first thing coming into my head was `Am I going to be able to play Gaelic football again? No I won't'. I was a very keen Gaelic footballer. That always left a mark on me. Then Jonah Lomu came along and played professional rugby and I thought, fair play.

"Somebody else in my shoes will say `I can go and play sport like him'. He was very determined and very committed to get back after such a serious illness. It didn't hold him back. He provided a lot of inspiration to young people".

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