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Page last updated at 08:26 GMT, Thursday, 2 June 2005 09:26 UK

Lomu makes inspirational return

By James Standley

Jonah Lomu (right) tells France's Frank Comba to wind his neck in
Born: 12 May 1975, Auckland NZ
Height: 6ft 5in (1.95m)
Weight: 19st (125kg)
Fastest 100m: 10.8 seconds

Rugby union's first global superstar returns to action on Saturday after two years on the sidelines.

And when Jonah Lomu leads out his team to face former England captain Martin Johnson's XV at Twickenham, it will be the culmination of one of the most remarkable stories in sport.

Because Lomu, who as a 20-year-old destroyed England in the semi-finals of the 1995 World Cup, was not laid low by a broken leg or troublesome cruciate ligament.

Even when he was making a pancake of Mike Catt he was suffering from a debilitating kidney condition called nephrotic syndrome.

It not only halted his rugby career, it also destroyed his health, and in August 2003 Lomu finally underwent a kidney transplant.

Before the operation, Lomu, once a human wrecking ball, struggled to walk more than a few yards at a time.

But now he says he is back approaching full fitness and relishing the chance to return to action.

"It's not so long since I could hardly walk," he said.

"The biggest thing for me is just to get out on that field. Just to do that will be incredible."

Results from damage to blood vessels in kidney
Lomu required dialysis to remove waste products and excess fluid
He had to have dialysis for eight hours a day
Patients have a 37% chance of survival for five years on dialysis
They have a 90% survival rate after five years following a kidney transplant from a living donor

Lomu's new kidney was donated by New Zealand radio personality Grant Kereama, who said: "It's what you do for your mates".

In order to try and protect it, Lomu's surgeon has tucked the kidney in under his rib cage, rather than lower in the abdomen where it goes normally, and his doctors say there is absolutely no reason why Lomu should not be able to play rugby.

He would not be the first kidney-transplant recipient to return to a physical-contact sport at an elite level.

American basketballer Sean Elliott returned to the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs in 2000, but his comeback lasted just one year as he battled continual muscle tears and ligament sprains.

His doctor attributed the injuries to the anti-rejection medication he was taking, but Lomu's doctor is certain that will not be a problem for the All Black because he believes Lomu is taking different medicine.

"He's at no greater risk of injury than anyone else and I hope I'm not proved wrong, but at this stage he's training pretty well and not having any problems," said Dr John Mayhew.

Since the transplant, Lomu has been working hard to get fit, with a tough regime that has even included a sparring session with world-class heavyweight David Tua, and he has also been analysing his game.

From being kept alive through dialysis to attaining this level of fitness is absolutely remarkable
Kidney specialist Dr Anthony Warrens

While his impact was undeniable in the past, so was the fact that he had a fairly limited game, albeit one limited to extreme pace, extraordinary power, sublime balance and the priceless ability to score spectacular tries.

He says he has been working on his kicking, among other things, and added: "I've been analysing defences and working out what to do when you're one-on-one or even when you're faced with two defenders.

"It's about making the right decision."

Some may think that his decision to start playing again is far from the right one, but it has been welcomed by Dr Anthony Warrens, medical advisor for The National Kidney Research Fund in Great Britain.

He said: "From being kept alive through dialysis to attaining this level of fitness is absolutely remarkable.

"It is a testament to what can be achieved by having a kidney transplant, and indeed, just how progressive transplantations have become."

Jonah Lomu blasts past England fly-half Rob Andrew in New Zealand's 1995 World Cup semi-final win
Lomu exploded onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup

The experts seem certain that Lomu is able to handle top-flight rugby and the man himself has no doubts, so he does not expect opponents to hold back.

"If they don't front up and bring their 'A' game against me then they're in trouble," he said.

"If they've got any uncertainties then they'd better come tell me to my face.

"I'll tell them I'm stronger than ever."

Since being diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome it has been estimated that Lomu has never been at more than 80% of his physical potential.

Indeed his doctor said that when Lomu was at the 1995 World Cup - when he appeared to be a force of nature - he was so ill that if an ordinary man had felt like that he would have been unable to walk round the block because of exhaustion.

The irony is that when Lomu first appeared it was his physical strength - which was so compromised - that saw him venerated as a superman.

On Saturday he will prove that the iron will which carried him through the dark days of serious ill-health more than matches his superhuman physical qualities.

see also
All Blacks trio join Lomu line-up
14 May 05 |  Rugby Union
Wasps pair team up with Johnson
16 May 05 |  Rugby Union

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