The Chiefs have honoured the memory of fallen All Black Sione Lauaki by winning the inaugural Brisbane Global Rugby Tens title.
In an emotion-charged all-Kiwi final, the Chiefs claimed a 12-5 victory over the previously undefeated Crusaders on Sunday at Suncorp Stadium.
Lauaki, a 17-cap Test player who made 70 Super Rugby appearances for the Waikato-based Chiefs, died early on Sunday morning at the age of just 35.
He was diagnosed with kidney and heart problems in 2012.
Some of his former teammates and coaches awoke to the news in Brisbane and dedicated the rest of their tournament to him.
Captain Liam Messam, a close friend of Lauaki, originally planned to fly back to New Zealand straight after the quarter-finals but changed his mind and decided to stick around and lead the team to victory instead.
However, the win has come at a huge cost for the Chiefs, who lost halfback Brad Weber (knee) and prop Mitchell Graham (broken leg) to serious injuries.
Graham’s in particular was a horrific blow – but in keeping with the jovial nature of the weekend, he managed to salute the crowd by dabbing while being taken from the field in a medicab.
The injuries, which came after Vaea Fifita also suffered a suspected broken leg in the Hurricanes’ semi-final defeat to the Crusaders, show why New Zealand Rugby blocked top-line All Blacks from playing in the tournament.
The tens format proved an exciting on-field product but Sunday’s final began in a more traditional way – Andrew Makalio opened the scoring for the Crusaders with a rolling maul try, giving his side a 5-0 lead.
Luke Jacobson responded for the Chiefs just before half-time, with Taleni Seu providing the sealer on the back of some sensational play from Shaun Stevenson, one of the stars of the tournament.
The best-performing Australian teams were the Queensland Reds and the Western Force, who both crashed out in the quarter-finals on a day when temperatures in Brisbane reached a sizzling 39 degrees.
Earlier, the Brumbies became an unfortunate victim of the tournament’s unbalanced groupings.
Despite winning two of their three games, they finished bottom of a three-team Pool C on points differential.
The NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels, Samoa, the Blues and French glamour club Toulon all exited in the pool stages.