Former Highlanders captain Nasi Manu has been moved to tears by teammates at his Italian rugby club after their gesture of support for his ongoing battle with testicular cancer.
Players at Benetton Rugby shaved their heads in support of Manu as he continues to receive chemotherapy.
“In every rugby locker room before a match, we talk about friendship, family and support. This gesture is not to let these be just rhetoric, but to show you that we are with you Nasi Manu,” the club wrote on Twitter.
Italian prop Alberto De Marchi said the team had been planning the gesture since news of Manu’s diagnosis was revealed in October.
“The idea came to us spontaneously,” De Marchi told Corierre.
“When we heard about Nasi’s disease, we knew there would be times when the chemo was particularly hard to deal with, and so we decided we would all cut off our hair to let him know that we are rooting for him.
“We had planned to shave off our hair straight away. But then, unfortunately, the team was divided – some had international commitments, and others were in South Africa for the matches against Cheetahs and Kings.
“The distance made it difficult to co-ordinate everything, so we decided to postpone things until we got back, and that’s what happened.”
Manu said on social media the support moved him to tears.
“Thanks to all of you for the support. When I saw the video I cried, you’re just incredible! Give me the strength to continue on this difficult road. I love you,” he said.
Manu revealed his diagnosis in October and told fans not to be too embarrassed to “check your balls”.
The 30-year-old played seven seasons for Canterbury as well as five season for the Highlanders before departing New Zealand’s shores to play European rugby, starting at Edinburgh before moving to Benetton in 2017.
As a co-captain of the Highlanders alongside Ben Smith, Manu led the Southern franchise to their first Super Rugby title in 2015 with a 21-14 win over the Hurricanes in the final.