All Blacks given chance to miss USA test after Sean Wainui death
Wainui died in a single-vehicle car crash in Omanawa on Monday, and the impact of his shock death has reverberated throughout the rugby world.
Those within the current All Blacks squad have been particularly hard-hit, with everyone in the squad having played with or against Wainui at either international, Super Rugby, provincial or age-grade level.
A former teammate of Wainui’s at the Crusaders between 2016 and 2017, All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor broke down in tears during a press conference on Tuesday as he spoke of how the 25-year-old’s passing has affected the New Zealand national squad.
The news of Wainui’s death comes less than a week out from the team’s opening match of their end-of-year tour against the USA Eagles at FedEx Field in the American capital on Sunday [NZ time].
Speaking to media on Wednesday, All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree said players who feel too upset to play in this weekend’s match have the option to sit out if required.
However, Plumtree said he would “be surprised” if players opted out of the test, New Zealand’s first against the USA in seven years, first on American soil in five years, and first time ever playing in Washington DC.
“If there was someone that just couldn’t play because, mentally, it was just too tough, then absolutely, but I don’t think you’ll find that,” he said.
“I think you’ll find that Sean would have wanted all those boys to be available for this test match and I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t want to play.”
Plumtree added the loss of Wainui has had a particular impact on those who played alongside him at the Chiefs since 2018, as well as those from the Crusaders teams of 2016 and 2017 and those who have played for the Maori All Blacks since 2015.
In commemoration of their teammate’s passing, Plumtree revealed the Chiefs players within the All Blacks set-up organised drinks in the team room at their hotel to pay their respects to Wainui.
“The passing of Sean Wainui has been really hard on the team. It hit us pretty hard,” Plumtree said.
“No matter how well he had played, or how many tries he had scored, he would take none of the credit, preferring to praise the work of those who had given him the ball.”
Tony Johnson pays tribute to Sean Wainui.https://t.co/hSO98wdG9T
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) October 19, 2021
“The Chiefs boys organised a little drink last night in the team room for anyone that wanted to join them, just in remembrance of him, and, I have to say, everyone came.
“They told some personal stories about what a fantastic person Sean is to them and there were some really beautiful moments.
“Pretty tough start to the week, but back to training today, so we’re into it and looking forward to getting back to what we do best, and that’s playing footy.”
The presence of All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka has proven to be vital in this difficult time, as Plumtree said support is available to help players deal with the grieving process.
“There’s some more things put in place for those individuals. Obviously having Gilbert Enoka here, he’s put some things in place for those individuals,” Plumtree said.
“I think we’ve just really encouraged everyone to be open and to be able to talk about Sean with somebody. Being vulnerable now is really important, and the boys have been fantastic in that space.
“Like I said, last night was really a special time for us as a team and the Chiefs boys that knew him, and for the Crusaders boys that knew him best.
“We have acknowledged the fact that it’s not over yet for some people, and it is a long week, but we do have a test match to prepare for as well.”
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