All Blacks loose forward Vaea Fifita is traveling to Perth with the All Blacks for their Bledisloe Cup opener against the Wallabies next weekend, despite the recent death of his younger brother, Alfred ‘AJ’ Mapa, in a river accident.
News of Mapa’s passing circulated through American news outlets after he drowned in the Provo River in Utah last Saturday.
ABC News reported that deputies with the Utah Sheriff County’s Office said that Mapa had jumped from a bridge into the river, but never made it out.
His body was recovered more than three hours later by Search and Rescue crews.
Fifita posted an emotional tribute to his brother on Twitter earlier in the week, which read: “I can’t believe that you’re gone little brother. It hurts so much. You’ve been called by God to be with him. Although it’s tough and we are struggling to understand why you had to go so young but I know you’re in a better place. I miss you so much man.”
I can’t believe that you’re gone little brother?.It hurts so much. You’ve been called by God to be with him. Although it’s tough and we are struggling to understand why you had to go so young but I know you’re in a better place. I miss you so much man. RIP MY LIL BRO??#ourangel pic.twitter.com/4sJDp4GhnA
— Vaea Fifita (@VaeaFifita) July 28, 2019
The All Blacks squad left Auckland for the Western Australia capital on Saturday morning, and prior to departure, head coach Steve Hansen confirmed Fifita was still part of a reduced traveling side, which is without youngsters Luke Jacobson and train-on squad member Josh Ioane, both of whom have been ruled out after sustaining head knocks.
“Obviously you’ve all heard the news around Vaea,” Hansen said at Auckland airport. “It’s incredibly sad his brother passing. We pass on our condolences to his family but he is travelling and we’ll get round him.”
No replacement has been called in to take Jacobson’s place in the team, with Hansen admitting some concern regarding the 22-year-old’s constant concussion woes over the past couple of seasons.
The former New Zealand U20 captain suffered a long-term concussion last year, which kept him sidelined until midway through this year’s Super Rugby campaign.
He also missed the last five games of the Chiefs’ season this year due to another head knock.
“We’ve got enough players,” Hansen said. “That’s why we took the big squad. Obviously there are concerns [about Jacobson]. It’s like all concussions, you’ve just got to take your time and when they’re ready to play and train you bring them back.”
Hansen said it was unknown how Jacobson’s head injury was sustained.
“We’re not sure with Lukey. He doesn’t recall anything, but he’s had a concussion before. It just may be a form that has decided to come back. We’ll take our time with him and get him sorted and go from there.”
Ioane’s injury concern was a lot more clear-cut, however, with the 24-year-old playmaker picking up his head knock while playing for Otago in a pre-season Mitre 10 Cup clash against Tasman in Nelson on Friday night, a match his side lost 54-19.
Both players could rejoin the squad next week for the return Bledisloe Cup fixture in Auckland.
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