Blues prop Mike Tamoaieta was on Friday farewelled by family and friends, a week after his sudden death aged 23.
His family, friends, rugby coach and partner recalled “Mikey T” as a warm cuddly character, as hundreds farewelled him at the Hope Centre in South Auckland.
Rugby was a predominant theme, with his schoolboy coach Dave Dillon speaking, the Blues squad attending, the stage decked out with Blues jerseys.
All Blacks were scattered among the mourners with Michael Jones, Blues midfield back Ma’a Nonu, Blues coaches Tana Umaga and Leon MacDonald, and former New Zealand coach John Hart there..
Tamoaieta’s family asked that no photos be taken or posted on social media.
Tears flowed as his sister, partner and mother recalled “Mikey T”, though at times there was laughter, and joy at the recollection of his crushing hugs
Tamoaieta played 10 Super Rugby games for the Blues last year and was involved pre-season this year, but not then contracted.
His Sacred Heart College rugby coach Dillon said the big man’s skills were apparent when he arrived at the school.
When he saw Tamoaieta play he thought “Far out, who’s this kid?”, he told mourners.
Though he was to grow into a 118kg prop, Tamoaieta had plenty of skills, Dillon said.
Tamoaieta showed he could reproduce those talents at top level in 2018, scoring an outstanding try at the Brisbane 10s, won by the Blues.
Sacred Heart pupils and Blues players did a haka as the coffin was carried from the church.
On Saturday the Blues play Japan’s Sunwolves at QBE Stadium in Albany, where Tamoaieta played provincial rugby for North Harbour.
Tamoaieta went close to making their touring party to South Africa and Argentina. He died when the team were in South America.
Blues coach MacDonald said on Thursday the biggest challenge for his players was separating raw emotion from the rugby.
There will be a minute’s silence at QBE Stadium before the match, plus a big-screen tribute to the big man.
The Blues would wear black armbands and acknowledge Mikey T on their jerseys as well.