Rugby: Phil Kingsley Jones, former manager of Jonah Lomu, dies aged 72

One of rugby's most colourful characters, Phil Kingsley Jones, has died, aged 72.

The Welshman shot to prominence in the 1990s as manager of All Blacks great Jonah Lomu, after he discovered the barnstorming winger playing high school rugby in Auckland. 

Son Phil Kingsley Jones Jnr, who coaches Canada and previously captained Wales, has confirmed that his father passed away in Auckland on Tuesday.

"Dad died peacefully in his sleep, with his wife, Verina, and daughters Vikki and Rhianon at his bedside,” he says.

"He had been in declining health, since falling at home a few months ago. 

"We shall forever remember him as a man who lived life to the full and for all those lucky enough to have known him, he made the world a better place.

"A comedian, coach and mentor to one of the greatest rugby players the world has ever seen, dad was first and foremost a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and brother. 

"We are all so very proud of his achievements, not least his massive influence on Counties Manukau rugby over a period of more than 30 years. He will be sorely missed by his family and countless friends."

Kingsley Jones first saw Lomu playing rugby for Wesley College and knew immediately he was witnessing a very special athlete - although Lomu's goal was to play in the NRL.

"I knew he was a natural," Kingsley Jones told Women's Weekly in 2019. "He was spinning a ball on his finger and showing off, trying to impress me. 

"But he told me he was into league, not rugby. I trained him anyway, because ball skills apply to both codes, but when I picked a team to play against Sid Going's team up in Kerikeri, I didn't put Jonah in it, because he'd said he was a league diehard.

"Jonah didn't like that, so then he started playing rugby, which actually suited him better, because league was played on a Sunday and his family didn't like that. 

"So that was how Jonah started [to focus on] playing rugby."

Cement Lomu's All Blacks legacy

Jones was influential in Lomu staying with New Zealand rugby. The All Blacks winger was offered big-money deals by Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, and several NRL and UK rugby league clubs, before and after his star-making performances at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

But Kingsley Jones advised his young charge to value his legacy as an All Black over the magnet of money and Lomu committed his future to rugby.

"He had been offered a place in the Bulldogs rugby league team in Sydney," Kingsley Jones told Women's Weekly. "I think Jonah thought that because I was a rugby union guy, I would be upset and go off him, but I wasn't. 

"He was being offered AU$300,000, and that was a lot of money for Jonah and for his family. He said that he wanted to take the place, but he'd only do it if I would be his manager.

"He said he wasn't going to sign unless I agreed. I thought about it and said I would be his manager, but only if he would give me his next All Black jersey.

"Jonah said I could have the two he already had, but I said I wanted the World Cup jersey - the one he'd get if he stayed in the All Blacks and played in the World Cup in 1995.

"Jonah turned down the Bulldogs and signed me as his manager, which meant he would go to the World Cup. I have the picture we took that day of Jonah signing a piece of paper on my head."

Born in the coal mining community of Blaina, Kingsley Jones played as a prop in the lower club rugby grades in Wales.

While his career as a stand-up comedian and after-dinner speaker flourished after his arrival in New Zealand, Kingsley Jones coached Counties Manukau in the national provincial championship, while also serving as assistant coach to Tonga.

Kingsley Jones fell out with Lomu near the end of his career, when then-wife Fiona took over his management, and was reportedly told not to attend Lomu's 2015 funeral.

"It was the worst time of my life, not going to the funeral," he told Women's Weekly. "On the day of the funeral, I sat at the Counties Manukau clubrooms and watched it on the telly with tears streaming down my face." 

Kingsley Jones Jnr says his father's passing will leave a huge hole in their family.

"Plans for the funeral will be announced as soon as possible." he says. "In the meantime, we ask that everyone respects the family’s privacy at such a desperately sad time."