AUCKLAND • All Black greats united to pay tribute to Jonah Lomu with a powerful haka yesterday as thousands of fans packed a memorial service at New Zealand rugby's spiritual home, Eden Park.
A grim-faced Buck Shelford led more than 20 former internationals in a "Ka Mate" haka while the legendary winger's casket was carried into a hearse.
Former team-mates, including Tana Umaga, Justin Marshall and John Kirwan, joined the emotional tribute on the same turf that Lomu once dominated.
"Jonah, you were a freak on the field and a gentle, caring giant off it," former All Blacks coach John Hart said.
A Maori mourning chant echoed around the Auckland stadium as Lomu's black casket was carried through the players' tunnel, preceded by an honour guard of tattooed warriors.
Lomu's wife Nadene and sons Brayley, 6, and Dhyreille, 5, wearing black shirts with the winger's number 11, followed with heads bowed.
Lomu died unexpectedly at his Auckland home last month aged just 40 from cardiac arrest related to the chronic kidney disease that cut short his playing career.
He was a beloved figure in New Zealand, even among those too young to have seen him in action, and the memorial ceremony was broadcast live by all major television stations.
Eden Park was a happy hunting ground for the player, who appeared in six Tests at the venue and helped win five of them. Hart said there could be no better place for the send-off.
"We've chosen Eden Park because it's the spiritual home of rugby and somewhere that Jonah loved so much," he said.
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset made the 18,000km trip from France to pay his respects to a man he said helped bring the sport into the professional era.
Since Lomu's death, tributes have poured in from across the rugby world.
The memorial service will be followed by a private funeral today.