Rugby: Lomu family touched at global grief for legend

New Zealand's rugby legend Jonah Lomu in a 2011 file photo.
New Zealand's rugby legend Jonah Lomu in a 2011 file photo.REUTERS

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Rugby great Jonah Lomu's family said Friday that a global outpouring of grief after the hulking winger's shock death this week was helping them through "an incredibly difficult time".

Lomu, who had chronic kidney disease, died unexpectedly at his Auckland home on Wednesday aged just 40, leaving a wife and two young sons.

Tributes for him have come not only from the rugby world but also Hollywood stars, politicians and the many charities he supported.

Lomu's father-in-law Mervyn Quirk said the messages of support were a comfort to the family of the man hailed as rugby union's first global superstar.

"We wish to thank all the people who have expressed their sympathies for our family at this incredibly difficult time," he said in a statement.

"We are truly touched by the outpouring of love for Jonah and the support for our family.

"While we grieve for a husband, father, son, brother and good mate, we know that many people in New Zealand and around the world are mourning a very special individual."

Quirk said funeral arrangements for Lomu were yet to be finalised but there would be a celebration of his achievements "during an all too short time on this Earth".

British football star David Beckham is among those who have honoured Lomu, tweeting his sadness at the death of "this amazing giant of a man".

"A sporting hero and one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet," he said.

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who learned Lomu's story when shooting the movie "Invictus" about the 1995 World Cup that shot him to stardom, said he was "heartbroken" at the loss.

"His strength and passion were a source of inspiration to us all," he tweeted.

Lomu's death has received blanket media coverage in his homeland, overshadowing Thursday's retirement of fellow All Black great Richie McCaw.

One broadcaster has set up a "Jonah" pop-up channel, dedicated to non-stop repeats of highlights from Lomu's 63-Test career.