Rugby: Former All Blacks forward Lauaki dies

Sione Lauaki collecting the ball before scoring his try during the rugby match between Scotland and New Zealand at Murrayfield Stadium, in Edinburgh on Nov 26, 2005. PHOTO: EPA

(REUTERS) - Tributes have been pouring in for former All Blacks forward Sione Lauaki after it was announced that the retired New Zealand rugby player had died overnight at the age of 35.

The cause of death was not immediately revealed but the Tonga-born Lauaki had been diagnosed with heart and kidney problems in 2012.

"The thoughts of everyone are with the family of Sione Lauaki. Sione played 17 Tests from 2005-2008. AB#1055. Gone too soon. RIP, Wax," the All Blacks tweeted on their verified account on Sunday, referring to the back-rower's nickname.

Lauaki made his Super Rugby debut for the Waikato Chiefs in 2004 and made his All Blacks debut against Fiji the following year.

Lauaki, who was a member of the 2007 World Cup squad, played 70 games for the Chiefs before leaving New Zealand in 2010 to continue his career in France.

"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Sione Lauaki this morning," the Chiefs said in a statement.

"In addition to his on-field heroics, Sione was a much loved and respected team mate.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Sione's family and friends and with the entire Chiefs whanau (extended family) as today we have lost a brother. Rest in peace Sione, always a Chief."

All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams was also among those to pay their respects.

"Damn. It's a sad day today, rest easy dox @SioneLauaki," Williams tweeted, his message ending with an emoticon of a broken heart.

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