So big is the love for Ita Vaea, the Brumbies want him to stick around the club for the rest of the Super Rugby season.
The 27-year-old forward left some teammates in tears earlier in the week when he announced his immediate retirement because of a heart issue.
Doctors told him he risked death if he played on with the same condition that forced him to miss the club’s 2013 and 2014 campaigns.
“It was very emotional for the team. It was hard for a number of guys,” coach Stephen Larkham said.
Among them was utility Robbie Coleman, who joined the Brumbies around the same time as Vaea.
While Coleman made his debut in 2010, both he and Vaea began playing regularly for the ACT-based franchise in 2011.
“I knew he was having some problems there, but I didn’t know the extent of it,” Coleman said.
“I was one of those guys that was pretty emotional. It hit me pretty hard as it did the whole squad.”
Coleman labelled Vaea, who was in line to play his 50th Super Rugby match this year and close to earning a Wallabies call-up, irreplaceable both on and off the field.
“He’s a once-in-a-generation character you can’t replace,” Coleman said.
“He brings energy and love to everyone. He’s got time for everyone and we love having him around.
“We’re all going to be out there for him. He’s inspiring us.”
Even though he’s unable to play, the Brumbies have invited Vaea to stay around the team.
For how long and in what capacity will be up to the now-retired No.8.
“We’ve had a couple of chats and he’s keen to stay around the boys at this stage,” Larkham said.
“We’ll certainly transition him into whatever he needs to be transitioned into.
“That’s kind of the way we work down here. He’s part of the family and we want to make sure we look after him.”