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All Blacks star breaks down during emotional Sean Wainui tribute

By Alex McLeod

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An emotional Codie Taylor broke down in tears while paying tribute to Sean Wainui following the former’s death on Tuesday.

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Wainui died at the age of 25 in Omanawa on Monday morning after a single-vehicle crash. The shock of his sudden passing has reverberated around the rugby world, and it has had a strong impact on the All Blacks squad.

“Firstly, I just want to send my love from the All Blacks to his family,” Taylor, who was a teammate of Wainui’s when he played for the Crusaders between 2016 and 2017, told reporters from Washington DC.

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster discusses preparations for USA test
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster discusses preparations for USA test

“Hugely devastating news to hear and I know they’ll be going through a lot right now, so we send our love. It’s pretty tragic.

“He’s a man held in high regard among the rugby community and was a special part of the Crusaders when he first came down, and a special part of the Chiefs, Maori All Blacks, Taranaki and the Bay [of Plenty].

“It’s pretty tough. I know there’s a few boys in here really struggling, as you’d expect, and we sort of touched on it this morning as a group, and there’ll be another opportunity to do that later on.

“I just think a man with so much mana and respect, it’s such sad news to hear. I suppose there’s a lot of shock as well. You don’t think it’s going to ever happen to someone like that, but it does. It’s just the cruel reality of the world.

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“It’s hard to talk about, mate, and I know a lot of people will be hurting. It’s a pretty tough time.”

Most, if not all, of the 37-man touring party – which landed in the American capital just hours after Wainui’s death ahead of this weekend’s clash against the USA Eagles – took to the field either with or against Wainui at various levels of the game.

A member of the Chiefs since 2018, Wainui had many Super Rugby teammates – Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber, Brodie Retallick, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Angus Ta’avao, Quinn Tupaea, Tupou Vaa’i and Josh Lord – in the current All Blacks squad.

Numerous others played alongside Wainui at the Crusaders, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and the Maori All Blacks, and plenty have taken to social media to express their sorrow at Wainui’s loss.

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Taylor said an effort is being made to ensure those who have been particularly hard-hit by the news are being supported by their teammates and management.

“I think those are the sort of men I was referring to,” he said of Wainui’s Chiefs teammates as those who are struggling in the All Blacks set-up.

“We haven’t had too much discussion about it, we as a leadership group, and, like I said, there’ll be an opportunity as a group to connect and acknowledge Seany and his family, his loved ones, which is important.

“Shock is one word you can probably say is shared at the moment among the boys. We’ll get around those who are most affected and pay our respects where we can.”

Asked about the impact Wainui’s death has had on those with young families, Taylor – a husband and father of two – was overcome with emotion as he paused to wipe away tears while choking up during his response.

“It really hits home. I think it shows how fragile life can be and you just think for his loved ones … it’s hard, he’s got kids. It’s just tough. I can’t really say much more.”

All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock, who has returned to the squad after missing most of the Rugby Championship to attend the birth of his third child in New Zealand, echoed Taylor’s sentiments.

The veteran second rower was also a teammate of Wainui’s at the Crusaders in 2016 and 2017 as he captained the Christchurch-based franchise to the first of their five successive Super Rugby titles four years ago.

Whitelock said many members of the All Blacks are “heartbroken” by the death of Wainui, who is survived by his wife Paige and his two children Kawariki and Arahia.

“I was in the room when Codie was answering the questions and I’m just going to replicate what he said. There’s a lot of people here that are heartbroken with Seany’s passing,” Whitelock said.

“A lot of people have played with him for New Zealand Maori, Chiefs, obviously Crusaders, and also in the age-group stuff, so there are people walking around with a pretty heavy heart at the moment, which is totally understandable.

“Obviously a lot of love and compassion goes out to Seany’s family, Paige and kids and extended family there, too, so it’s definitely a delicate one at the moment with the boys being away here.

“The guys who are very close to him want to get around people that were close to Sean and his family, too, so it is hard for a lot of the guys at the moment.

“The thing that we do have is we have a lot of guys here at the moment, so we are getting around people that need the support and it’s something that you have to do as a team anyway, whether it’s good or bad, and this is one of those ones that definitely hurts.”

Whitelock added that many of the All Blacks, including himself, have fond memories of Wainui and have been sharing stories of him in a bid to connect during their grieving process.

“Yes, we’re here to play rugby, but there are so many other things that can affect that, and this is one of those ones, so people will be going through the different cycles of grief,” he said.

“Obviously, at the moment, it’s all very raw still and everyone’s just in their own way, connecting with their own stories about Seany.

“For myself, at the Crusaders, [because our last names were] Whitelock and Wainui, we used to sit next to each other on the planes and we used to love having that little catch up around where he was in his life.

“I think he was 19 or 20 when he was at the Crusaders, so that was my story, but everyone else is connecting with their memories they have of Seany. Like I said, everyone’s here with a very, very heavy heart.”

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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All Blacks star breaks down during emotional Sean Wainui tribute

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