Rugby: Emotional All Blacks grapple with Sean Wainui’s death

Emotions are raw as the All Blacks express their state of shock following Sean Wainui’s sudden passing.

Wainui died in a single-vehicle crash around 7.50am at McLaren Falls Park, near Tauranga, on Monday to leave the wider New Zealand rugby community in mourning.

The 25-year-old is survived by wife Paige, and their children Kawariki and Arahia.

Through his time with Taranaki, the Crusaders, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty and New Zealand Māori, Wainui had a profound impact on many teammates, including those within the All Blacks.

Ian Foster’s men touched down in Washington DC, following a 35-hour journey from Australia, to learn of the incident. When Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor fronted the media on Tuesday his raw emotions reflected the grief the All Blacks are grappling with.

“It really hits home. It shows how fragile life can be. You feel for his loved ones. It’s hard, he’s got kids,” Taylor said as he shed tears.

“I want to send love from the All Blacks to his family. It’s hugely devastating news to hear and I know they’ll be going through a lot right now. It’s pretty tragic. He’s a man held in high regard among the rugby community. He was a special part of the Crusaders when he first came down and a special part of the Chiefs, Māori All Blacks, Taranaki and the Bay.”

The All Blacks held a team meeting to share stories about Wainui and the leadership group are discussing how to best honour him in Sunday’s test against the USA.

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

“With a man with so much mana and respect it’s so sad. There’s a lot of shock. You don’t think it’s ever going to happen to anyone like that, but it does. It’s the cruel reality of the world. It’s hard to talk about. I know a lot of people will be hurting. It’s a pretty tough time.”

The All Blacks’ Chiefs contingent – Anton Lienert-Brown, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Samasoni Taukeiaho, Angus Ta’avo, Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie, Quinn Tupaea, Tupou Vaa’i, Sam Cane, Josh Lord – will be among those carrying heavy burdens.

“We’ll get around those who are most affected and pay our respects where we can.”

All Blacks centurion Sam Whitelock, who has rejoined team alongside Cane, Dane Coles, Shannon Frizell and rookie lock Lord, further illustrated the profound sadness shared by all.

In situations such as these, distance from home makes coping more difficult.

“There’s a lot of people here that are heartbroken with Sean’s passing,” Whitelock said. “A lot of people have played with him in New Zealand Māori, the Chiefs and Crusaders and the age group stuff so there are people walking around with a pretty heavy heart which is totally understandable.

“A lot of love and compassion goes out to Sean’s family; Paige, the kids and their extended family. It’s definitely delicate with the boys being away. The guys that were close to him want to get round those who were close to Sean. It’s hard for a lot of the guys at the moment.

“Yes we’re here to play rugby but there’s so many other things that can affect that and this is one of those. People will be going through different cycles of grief. At the moment it’s all very raw still and everyone in their own ways are connecting with stories about Sean.

“For me at the Crusaders Whitelock and Wainui used to sit next to each other on the plane. I used to love having that catch up around where he was in his life. He was 19, 20 when he was at the Crusaders. That was my story. Everyone else is connecting with their memories they have of Sean.”

As they shake off jet lag and settle into the States the All Blacks held mini team games featuring a mock NFL competition, before travelling past Washington DC’s main monuments. They will also gather as a team to watch Monday night football between the Titans and Bills in Nashville.

Having reviewed their Rugby Championship campaign before finishing their Sunshine Coast training block, Taylor believes the All Blacks must improve following their last loss against the Springboks.

“We had a taste of what that world stage is like in those big games. There’s some areas we can work on in terms of dealing with different games, pressure and key areas of our game we need to nail when we have the ball,” Taylor said.

“With the northern tour a lot of the teams we’re playing will bring that same level of pressure and try to take away the strengths of our game. This is where we need to be. We’re a new group who needs to step up in these big tests. There’s no better way to do it than to play the best of the Northern Hemisphere.”

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