Tributes have flowed for New Zealand rugby union player Sean Wainui after the Māori All Blacks representative died in a car crash in the early hours of Monday.
Bay of Plenty police issued a statement on Monday morning confirming one person had died after a single-vehicle crash at McLaren Falls Park.
Wainui was the sole occupant of the car. He is survived by his wife Paige and their two children.
The 25-year-old was one of the brightest stars in Super Rugby, having made his debut in the competition for the Crusaders in 2016 before joining the Chiefs in 2018.
The centre and occasional winger made 44 appearances for the Hamilton-based club, scoring 90 points. In May this year signed for NPC team Bay of Plenty for the 2021 provincial rugby season.
Wainui made headlines earlier this year when he became the first Super Rugby player to score five tries in a single match, in the Chiefs’ one-sided win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
In a statement on Monday New Zealand Rugby said it was a “dark day” for the game.
“Our thoughts are with Sean and his whānau [family], particularly Paige, Kawariki and Arahia, and we offer them our full support at what is the most difficult of times,” NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said.
“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.”
New Zealand Māori Rugby Board chair Farah Palmer said the game of rugby was in mourning.
“As a player we all saw what this young tāne was capable of and the passion and talent that he brought to the teams he represented, but we also saw a role model for young Māori, a caring father who was passionate about his culture, his language, and his identity,” Palmer said. “He will be sorely missed.”
Māori All Blacks, Chiefs and former Bay of Plenty head coach Clayton McMillan said Wainui was an influential member of the teams he played in.
“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.”