The New Zealand rugby community is in mourning after it was confirmed that Chiefs winger Sean Wainui had died in a car crash on Monday morning.
Wainui, 25, hit a tree while driving in Omanawa, near Tauranga, on New Zealand's north island.
Bay of Plenty Police released a statement saying one person had died in a single-vehicle accident, with NZ Rugby later confirming that person was Wainui.
Wainui is survived by wife Paige, and their children Kawariki and Arahia.
One of Rugby NZ's tallest totara trees has fallen. To you Sean, our Rangatira, we farewell you to the outspread arms of the multitudes who await you beyond this earthly realm. You leave us here bereft and drown in sorrow as we weep for you. Rest well in peaceful repose. ❤️💛🖤 pic.twitter.com/ZhiCJ28OU1— Gallagher Chiefs (@ChiefsRugby) October 18, 2021
Wainui had established himself as a key member of the Chiefs backline over the last few years, recently setting a Super Rugby record when he scored five tries in a match against the Waratahs in Sydney.
He began his Super Rugby career in Christchurch with the Crusaders, before switching to the Chiefs in 2018. Wainui had also become a fixture of the Maori All Blacks, while he had switched from Taranaki to Bay of Plenty for this year's Bunnings NPC tournament.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said Wainui's loss would be felt deeply across the rugby community.
"Our thoughts are with Sean and his whānau, particularly Paige, Kawariki and Arahia, and we offer them our full support at what is the most difficult of times," Robinson said via a media release.
"We know Sean's passing will be felt deeply by everyone involved in rugby, particularly his Bay of Plenty and Chiefs teammates, and we share their sorrow and their shock.
"We ask that media give the Wainui whānau space to grieve as we all reflect on a young life that has ended far too early."
We are heartbroken right now. Sean, you were an inspiration and will never be forgotten. We extend all of our strength and aroha to your friends and whānau. 🖤Kia au tō moe. pic.twitter.com/R0o9fqgW6R— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 18, 2021
Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan, who had also coached Wainui with the Maori, paid tribute to the 25-year-old back, saying he was a hugely valued and respected member of both teams.
"Sean was an incredibly talented individual and held a great amount of mana among his fellow teammates and the wider rugby community," McMillan said.
"He epitomised everything you could possibly ask for in a player. He will be remembered for being a passionate, hard-working, proud Māori who was an exceptional player but more importantly father and husband.
"He was an influential member in the teams he has been a part of, and his presence will be missed. Our sincere condolences to Paige, Kawariki and Arahia and his wider whānau at this difficult time. We are offering them our full support along with our players and staff."
Chiefs captain Brad Weber, who is currently on tour with the All Blacks in the United States, led a plethora of tributes for Wainui, saying the loss would cut the entire organisation to the core.
Can't quite put into words how much this one hurts. Always said publicly that Sean deserves everything he gets because he works so hard for it. But he doesn't deserve this. That first day back at Chiefs HQ next season is gonna hurt walking in and not seeing you there brother. RIP pic.twitter.com/qIWDzi3tgg— Brad Weber (@brad_weber9) October 18, 2021
In-form Wallabies veteran Quade Cooper was one of a number of Wallabies players who passed on their condolences to Wainui's family and friends.
My heart goes out to Sean wainuis whanau.. Lost for words as it was only a few months ago I was talking to him in the gym in tauranga. We have lost an incredible human 💔Prayers for his wife and young family— Quade Cooper (@QuadeCooper) October 18, 2021