Manu Samoa players have joined global stars of rugby to pay tribute to former All Black and Pacific Island Rugby Alliance Star, Sione Lauaki, who passed away on Saturday night.
The news of his death has shocked the rugby with players paying tribute to one of the more lovable characters of the game. Lauaki who played 17 tests between 2005 and 2008, passed away in Auckland surrounded by family, having apparently suffered kidney failure. He was 35.
Eliotta Fuimaono Sapolu said the news is sad.
“Oml this breaks me,” he posted on social media.
“R.I.P wax. I’m in absolute shock.”
Former Manu Samoa fullback, Tanner Vili, who played with Lauaki during the inaugural Pacific Island Rugby Alliance (P.I.R.A) tour, wrote a moving tribute about Lauaki on his Facebook page.
“Been thinking about you all day, wondering what to say...I was gonna write nothing but this keeps running through my head,” Vili said.
“The first time I met Waximus was in 2004 when we were room mates on "The Originals" Pacific Islanders Rugby Alliance, I remember it like it was yesterday.
“It was in Fiji, I was already settled in our room when you walked in, we said hi, then you went and had a shower, you chucked on the baggiest black jeans, brand new black leather chucks still in the box, you then tried on about 5 t-shirts and settled on a plain white one and then sprayed about half a bottle of CK-One on yourself, I had to turn the fan on full blast just to clear the room of your spray lol, you then tried on about 5 caps and settled on a black one.
“Funny thing is that about 5 minutes later we all jumped into the hotel pool lol where we all had a good chat.
“I asked you why you were so quiet, you said you were shy because I was "Tanner Vili" lol you said you went to Tamaki College for a very short time before you "left" lol, after that chat, that was it, we were all PIRA Brothers 4 Life <3.”
Vili said Lauaki was “an awesome rugby player, a gentle, kind person always smiling with a sparkle in your eye, like a little brother to me.”
“I've always treasured this photo of us taken after we played the All Blacks, what a game! I'll treasure this photo even more now that you are gone.
“I will never forget you man, farewell eh <3
“Lot's of people ask me what we said to each other in this photo, I don't remember saying anything, it was one of those in the moment moments where we knew we had just played a special game and that words weren't needed for what our PIRA Brothers had achieved that night. P.I.R.A Brothers 4 LIFE.”
Born in Tonga, Lauaki emerged out of Kelston Boys' High and debuted for Auckland in 2002, before switching to Waikato and making his maiden Super Rugby appearance for the Chiefs in 2004.
He first pulled on the black jersey a year later in a victory over Fiji and was eventually part of the All Blacks squad that fell short at the 2007 World Cup, but found his path at the top level blocked by Rodney So'oalio and Jerry Collins.
Lauaki also played for the one-off Pacific Islanders combination and, within a 15-day period in 2004, scored tries for them against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
After playing his last Super Rugby match for the Chiefs in 2010, Lauaki made 51 appearances for French club Clermont before finishing his playing career with 16 games at Bayonne.
While undergoing routine tests in France, Lauaki discovered he was suffering from renal failure and cardiovascular problems, prematurely curtailing his rugby career. He then returned to New Zealand before getting married in Rarotonga in 2014 and living there since.