All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu received an ecstatic welcome on Tuesday when he returned to his ancestral homeland Tonga to promote this year's World Cup in New Zealand.
Lomu, widely acknowledged as Rugby Union's first global superstar, was born in Auckland but spent much of his childhood in Tonga, the Pacific island nation his parents originally hailed from and where he still has relatives.
The 36-year-old said it felt strange returning to Tonga for the first time in 15 years.
"Sitting in the cockpit of the plane, I didn't know how to feel until we popped out through the clouds and there was [the main island] Tongatapu. For me there was just adrenaline, I couldn't wait to get off the plane," he said.
Scores of Tongans, many of whom were too young to see Lomu in his heyday during the mid to late 1990s, gathered for autographs in the capital Nuku'alofa, shyly offering shirts and caps for him to sign.
"I was so nervous," said Fakaofo Malupo, a 21-year-old who said she grew up hearing about Lomu's exploits for the All Blacks.
"I heard about him but this this the first time I've looked at him in real life."
Nuku'alofa resident Billy Filo said Lomu still ranked as the most famous Tongan ever and had put the island kingdom on the map.
"He took the Friendly Isles (Tonga) around the world," he said.
"Before him, most people in the world did not know anything about Tonga, they heard from him."
Lomu, a devastating wing who made his international debut aged 19, was forced into early retirement from rugby after a long battle with a rare kidney disease.
He said he wanted to promote rugby to Polynesian youth during his sweep through the South Pacific this week as a World Cup ambassador, taking in Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Niue.
"The natural talent out there is scary," he said. "Someone's got to do something about it."
The World Cup kicks off on September 9 with the All Blacks playing Tonga in Auckland. Lomu is in the Pacific as part of a New Zealand contingent of about 80 people, led by Foreign Minister Murray McCully, promoting the event.
Lomu said he would be there with his family supporting his old team New Zealand "but my heart will also be with the Tongans".
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