Former teammates, friends and family have begun paying tribute to late All Blacks flanker Dylan Mika at a memorial service at Eden Park today.
Mika, 45, died last week from a heart attack. He had managed Type I diabetes throughout his life.
The service started at 2pm with several of his teammates, as well as dignitaries from New Zealand Rugby, Auckland Rugby, the Blues, and Samoan Rugby in attendance.
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Students from St. Peter’s college performed a haka as Dylan’s coffin was carried in by former classmates, followed by close friends and family.
Former All Black coach John Hart was the opening speaker on behalf of NZR and Auckland Rugby.
“Today is a celebration,” Hart said. “He was a very successful player from a young age but his rugby career was no doubt affected by his diabetes.
“However, he pushed on made his Auckland debut … he was committed to the cause and always gave 100%.
“I have nothing but immense respect for Dylan, he was a very very special man and I’m privileged to call him my friend. He will be remembered for his love of NZ rugby and Samoan rugby and his ability to give to others.”
Hart spoke of all of Dylan’s rugby achievements and spoke on how he overcame hurdles to make the All Blacks.
Niko Jones, deputy head boy of St. Peter’s college, paid tribute to an “amazing man”.
“I have been deeply influenced by the life of this amazing man. Today I speak on behalf of St. Peter’s but I was privileged to know this man, to me he was my uncle Dylan.
“He’s one of my biggest idols. He’s so much more than just a rugby player, he’s a true inspiration to me as a St. Peter’s student,” Niko Jones said.
“He was a born leader and he is a true St. Peter’s man.”
St. Peter’s old boy Nelson David spoke of Mika’s competitiveness.
“I hope to honour the spirit of our brother, Dylan. He was humble but confident. He liked to rub it in but knew when to take his foot off the pedal. We all remember him fondly.”
Former All Blacks captain and current Blues coach, Tana Umaga, spoke on behalf of Mika’s teammates.
“It’s another brother gone, and that’s tough.
“First time I came across Dylan was in 1993, it was my first year back in rugby.
“On the field he was tough, but off the field, you wouldn’t find a more kind-hearted person. He’d do anything for his friends and teammates to make sure everyone was okay.”
“The biggest thing is that he was so driven on and off the field, so quiet, but when he did speak, everyone listened.”
Mika played two tests for Samoa and, after serving a three-year stand-down period, seven for the All Blacks, including two against Italy and South Africa at the 1999 World Cup.
A star of secondary school St Peter’s College, the Auckland team of 1993/94 Mika began turning heads, and he progressed to play in the great Blues teams of 1996-98, featuring at six, eight and lock.
All Blacks legend and NZ Barbarians patron Sir Bryan Williams called Mika one of the club’s finest.
“He always held a warm, smiling and welcoming presence,” Williams said.
“Dylan threw himself into his Barbarians work with no fuss. He’s definitely left his mark. The Barbarians club will fondly remember him. We have lost one of our finest.”
Late last week, Sir Michael Jones was among the first to mourn Mika’s loss.
Jones described Mika as a “little brother, unsung hero and inspirational leader throughout the New Zealand and Samoan rugby communities”.
Apart from his feats on the field, Mika left an even greater legacy off it, Jones said.
“He was always a quiet achiever. That was a hallmark of his rugby career and life in business and administration,” Jones said.
“It’s a wonderful story because he always had the challenge of living with diabetes from a very early age.
“We saw first-hand how he had to manage that and the way it could undermine his ability to train and perform at the highest level but it never stopped him excelling and reaching the very pinnacle.”