Senior All Blacks Codie Taylor and Sam Whitelock have shared their sadness at the passing of former Crusaders teammate Sean Wainui, revealing the entire New Zealand squad is hurting as they prepare for Sunday’s [NZT] Test against the United States.
Wainui died in a car crash on Monday morning, leaving behind his wife, Paige, and two young children.
The Chiefs winger’s death has left a huge hole in the heart of the New Zealand Rugby community, with Wainui’s universal popularity reflected in the outpouring of emotion on social media since the news of his passing.
It has hit the Chiefs players currently on tour with the All Blacks particularly hard, with skipper Brad Weber and star centre Anton Lienert-Brown among those to express their grief on Monday.
All Blacks hooker Taylor, meanwhile, bravely fronted the media from the team’s camp in Washington DC, saying Wainui had been a “special part” of the New Zealand rugby family across multiple teams.
“It’s pretty tragic,” Taylor said. “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 he’s a special part of the Chiefs, Māori All Blacks, Taranaki and the Bay [of Plenty].
“It’s pretty tough. I know there are few boys in here really struggling, as you’d expect. It was sort of touched upon this morning and there will be an opportunity to do that later on.
“I just think a man with so much mana, and respect, it’s such sad news to hear. There’s a lot of shock as well. You don’t think it’s going to happen to someone like that, but it does.
“It’s hard to talk about. A lot of people will be hurting. It’s a pretty tough time.”
While Wainui had established himself as a key member of the Chiefs backline in recent years, his Super Rugby career had begun in Christchurch with the Crusaders in 2016.
Both Taylor and Whitelock had played alongside him throughout that period, while other members of the current All Blacks squad had got to know Wainui through the New Zealand Under 20s team or with Taranaki in the NPC.
“There are a lot of people here heartbroken with Seanie’s passing,” Whitelock said. “A lot of people played with him – NZ Māori, the Chiefs, the Crusaders, and also the age group stuff.
“Obviously a lot of love and compassion goes out to Seanie’s family, [wife] Paige, his kids and extended family.
“This is a delicate one at the moment with the boys being away here. We just want to get around people that were close to Sean.
“It’s hard for a lot of the guys at the moment…people will be going through the different cycles of grief, and it’s all still very raw at the moment.”
While the All Blacks are yet to determine how they will mark Wainui’s passing, the team is expected to honour him prior to kick-off against the Eagles on Sunday morning.
Before conducting their haka against the Pumas last year, the All Blacks placed a jersey on halfway as a tribute to late Argentina football great Diego Maradona, while the Maori All Blacks made a similar show of respect for Ireland’s Sean Foley ahead of the team’s clash with Munster in 2016.