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Former New Zealand international Sione Lauaki dies at 35

Former New Zealand back-row forward Sione Lauaki has died at the age of 35.

His death was announced by the All Blacks and his former club team, the Hamilton-based Chiefs.

Tonga-born Lauaki played in 17 Tests for the All Blacks from 2005 to 2008, before moving to France in 2010 and playing for Clermont Auvergne and Bayonne.

The cause of his death was not immediately stated.

Lauaki was forced out of rugby in 2012 due to kidney and cardiovascular problems.

The Chiefs said: " We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Sione Lauaki this morning.

"The formidable forward first debuted for the Chiefs in 2004, playing 70 games for us before departing New Zealand in 2010 to continue his career in France.

"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 (family) as today we have lost a brother. Rest in peace Sione, always a Chief."

An All Blacks statement added: " New Zealand and Pacific Rugby is today mourning the passing of former All Black and Chief Sione Lauaki, aged 35.

"Lauaki passed away in Auckland this morning, surrounded by his family."

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said: "We are incredibly saddened by this news, as will be many who have known Sione through both his rugby and Tongan community connections.

"It is always sad to lose a member of the All Black community, but with Sione passing at such a young age it will be felt with an even greater sense of tragedy amongst his former team-mates, fans, family and friends."

The news follows 15 months on from the death of All Blacks great Jonah Lomu, and less than two years since another former New Zealand star, Jerry Collins, died in a car crash.

Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga wrote on Twitter: "Another brother gone! Much love and Condolences to his family!"

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