All Blacks pay tribute to Maradona before match vs. Pumas

NEWCASTLE, Australia — New Zealand paid tribute to Diego Maradona when captain Sam Cane laid an All Black jersey — No. 10 — on the field before the start of their Tri-Nations test match against Argentina on Saturday.

As the All Blacks lined up to perform the haka, Cane stepped out, walked toward midfield and laid down the jersey — with Maradona's name and number on it — as Argentine players stood arm-in-arm and watched.

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"It was a gesture, a token, of paying our respects to an Argentine legend, a world legend in his field as well," Cane told The Associated Press after the match, which New Zealand won 38-0.

Maradona died Wednesday of a heart attack at age 60 in a house outside Buenos Aires. The soccer great had been recovering from a brain operation.

The idea came from All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara, Cane said.

"Rugby is a game first and foremost that is built on respect I believe, and it was the respectful and right thing to do," Cane said.

Several Argentine players nodded in acknowledgment of the gesture.

"I didn’t know (about the tribute) until I did the coin toss with Sam Cane and he told me about it," Pumas flanker Pablo Matera said. "I’m really thankful for that. Diego Maradona was obviously huge for Argentina, so I’m really thankful for that gesture from the All Blacks."

Matera told The Associated Press that Maradona's passing had been a source of inspiration for many of the squad.

"Maradona was a guy who represented our country the best way you could represent us as a sportsman," Matera said. "He’s been a huge inspiration for all of us: players, coaches, the people of Argentina.

"So we always have him in our thoughts and we just want to represent our country the way he did."

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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