Jonah Lomu married South African sweetheart Tanya Rutter in 1996. Picture: Angelo Kalmeyer
Jonah Lomu married South African sweetheart Tanya Rutter in 1996. Picture: Angelo Kalmeyer

The Glory of '95: How I ended up boogying with Jonah Lomu at his wedding

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen Time of article published Jun 5, 2020

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WE were running late and I wasn’t happy. It was my friend’s wedding and I desperately wanted to be there when she walked down the aisle. You see, this was no ordinary, every day wedding; this was something so much bigger than that.

This was the day my friend, Tanya Rutter, was getting hitched to the biggest, meanest man in rugby; the man-mountain who was considered a giant of the game. His name: Jonah Lomu.

With excitement in the air, my best bud and I, along with our partners, raced to Kimberley from Bloemfontein on the morning of November 9, 1996. It was big news, and this was a big deal. But, as we got closer and closer to the local Anglican church in the middle of town we realised something wasn’t right. There wasn’t a soul in sight. There were no cars, no police, no security, nothing.

Had we somehow been tricked? Did we have the date wrong? What were we missing?

A quick phone call to a Kimberley local solved the mystery. We were at the wrong church; there was another Anglican church in town, and that’s where everything was going down. Time was ticking.

Tanya Rutter and Jonah Lomu's wedding invitation.

We raced across Kimberley with the hot summer sun beating down on us, but we were never going to make it. As we got closer to the church, we spotted a police helicopter hovering above and, not surprisingly, we had to go through two police checkpoints to get to where we were supposed to park. The car was searched at both checkpoints and we were frisked and told in no uncertain terms to adhere to the rules governing the day. Cameras were forbidden, identity documents checked and names ticked off a list.

Everyone was already inside the church. We pushed the big door to enter and, you guessed it, there was one almighty big creak. We froze and those sitting and standing at the back turned to see four sweaty 20-year-olds beaming from ear-to-ear.

We were at the wedding of the decade, and the biggest event Kimberley had hosted in years.

The bride and groom said and did what was asked of them; it was magical, it was beautiful, it was something I’ll never forget.

On June 24 1995, 25 years ago, South Africa celebrated one of our greatest sporting triumphs as then President Nelson Mandela handed Springbok captain Francois Pienaar the Webb Ellis Cup. Relive all the magic in our daily series “The glory of 95”.

Later, we partied and danced with Lomu and his friends. We had a jolly good time. It was insane. I loved every minute of it.

So, how you ask, did I end up at the social event of 1996 and the wedding of the year?

Well, Rutter and I became friends in 1994 while studying at the University of the Free State. While our courses were different, we took several subjects together and it wasn’t long before we were a big group of friends who did a lot of partying, socialising and a little studying together. We were a tight-knit group.

Fast forward to 1995 and the Rugby World Cup and a week spent in Bloemfontein by the hot favourites, the All Blacks, at the beginning of June.

Lomu was a star, the most talked about player of the 1995 tournament, but he wasn’t yet the global superstar he’d become - that would happen later following his barn-storming performance against England in the semi-finals. He was rested for the All Blacks’ final pool game against Japan on June 4 and it was during this week that Rutter and Lomu met, I found out later.

Jonah Lomu was the most destructive player at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. Picture: Reuters

One night a few days after the New Zealand team had left Bloemfontein, as they looked ahead to the quarter-finals, we were having drinks at a popular local bar and I noticed Rutter was wearing an All Blacks puffer jacket. It was the real thing and it was way too big for her. I was immediately curious and interested.

There was an air of mystery to her that night; as if she wasn’t there. Her mind (and heart) was somewhere far away from Bloemfontein. No amount of begging and pleading about the official owner of the jacket was forthcoming. She didn’t say a word. She just smiled.

I didn’t see Rutter again during the World Cup, but before the Springboks beat Lomu and his All Black team in the final at Ellis Park a few weeks later, I’d found out from one of her girl friends whose jacket she had taken ownership of.

It didn’t take long for the news of a romance between Lomu and Rutter to hit the papers.

If I remember correctly Rutter dropped out of varsity and went to New Zealand to be with Lomu. And one day just over a year later, around September of 1996, I was handed a big white envelope with my name on it by a mutual friend. Inside was the invitation to a wedding, at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Barkley Road, Kimberley for Saturday, 9 November.

And that’s how I ended up boogying with Lomu at his wedding to my friend, Tanya Rutter.

@jacq_west

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