Rugby Union

Brumbies greats Joe Roff and Stirling Mortlock pay homage to All Blacks' Jonah Lomu

Wallabies greats Joe Roff and Stirling Mortlock have revealed the secret tackling technique wingers used to stop Jonah Lomu - throw yourself at his legs and hope he tripped over.

Roff was thankful both he and the All Blacks legend played left wing, meaning he rarely had to act as Lomu's speed bump, while Mortlock started his career up against the "best ever" winger.

Mortlock said he couldn't believe it when he heard the news Lomu had died aged just 40 on Wednesday, describing it as a "massive loss to the rugby fraternity".

He started his career both with the ACT Brumbies and the Wallabies trying to find a way to bring down the 1.96-metre, 119-kilogram behemoth who revolutionised the game of rugby with his exploits in the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

Mortlock said he was a "gentle giant, softly spoken and a true gentleman" off the field, but he struck fear into his opponents with his raw power, pace and skill.

He still recalls the Bledisloe Cup clash played in front of a what is still a record crowd of 109,874 at Stadium Australia in 2000 when Lomu scored the winning try.

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While Mortlock said it was a "huge honour" to have played against Lomu, it was also a scary prospect because he was an "animal".

The key to stopping the great man was simple.

"When you played against Jonah you would dive at his legs and hope that he tripped over you," Mortlock said.

"It was a tactic well known to guys who were marking him because, in all honesty, when he wanted to he could run around you, he was fast enough to do that, he could step you, he was good enough to do that, or if he felt like it he could run over you, which he was very good at."

It was a technique self confessed "non-tackling winger" Roff also used.

Roff and Lomu first came up against each other in year 11 when the pair were playing schoolboy rugby for their respective countries.

Lomu's reputation had preceded him even back then when he'd already been "flagged for greatness".

The last time Roff saw him was 13 months ago, when the pair caught up at a function at New Zealand's 29-28 victory over Australia at Suncorp Stadium.

He said Lomu was a "larger than life" character, whose presence was felt whenever he walked into a room.

On the field you only ever paid Lomu compliments to ensure you didn't "poke the bear" and make him angry.

Roff said he was almost "thankful" England knocked them out of the 1995 World Cup - it meant the Wallabies didn't face a rampant Lomu.

Lomu changed the game of rugby - both how it was played and how it was perceived - with his powerful performances for the All Blacks at that World Cup.

He barged over the top of England fullback Mike Catt in the semi-final as if he wasn't there to score one of the greatest tries in rugby history.

That could have been Roff, if England hadn't beat Australia 25-22 in the quarter-final.

"I was on the bench when England knocked us out. It's quite possible, had we won that match, I may've been on that wing [in the semi]," Roff said.

"Perhaps I should be thankful that we lost that quarter-final rather than made it ... we would've otherwise been in England's position being Jonah Lomu'd."

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