Sir Michael Niko Jones became a knight companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for his services to the Pasifika community and youth.
The former All Black, who holds a chiefly matai title in Samoa, wore a traditional ulafala at the ceremony at Government House in Wellington.
The 52-year-old was visibly humbled as he knelt down to receive the honour from Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.
With a smile on his face, Sir Michael acknowledged the full crowd with a subtle nod as he returned to his seat amidst sustained applause.
The 1987 World Cup winner admitted he was in “a bit of a daze” after the ceremony.
“I feel very humbled, hugely honoured,” he said.
“It was just wonderful to be there among some wonderful fellow New Zealanders, and I felt very privileged.”
Sir Michael said he was thinking of his late mother, Maina Wearne-Jones, as the sword tapped him on his shoulders.
“I lost my father very young; I was only four years old, so she was the one who sort of raised us with my uncles and aunties and cousins,” Sir Michael recalled.
“It’s a tribute to having a great late mother who is no longer here, but also a great whanau with my wife and kids.
“They’re the ones who have supported me and made the sacrifice so I could pursue the things I do.”
Sir Michael said he was the quintessential case of the village raising the child. It was something he never forgot. He went on to found and chair The Village, a community and youth trust aiming to help keep Maori and Pasifika youth out of gangs.
The trust has grown to include a sports academy and a mentoring programme.
He also helped establish the Pacific Peoples Advancement Trust, which started and sponsors the Pacific Advance Senior School.
Sir Michael said the Pasifika community was making good progress, in spite of facing more challenges now than in his childhood.
“There’s a lot more work to do, but I think we’re trying to grow more leaders to advocate champions. I just feel I am one of many, many others.”
He said he was heartened by the closer bonds forged between tagata Pasifika and tangata whenua, and the direction both were moving in.
However, he has continued to lean on his mother’s dream for him to improve the standing of Pacific communities in society.
“She told me, ‘son, you’re going to be the head and not the tail’.”
Sir Michael is regarded as one of the All Blacks’ finest.
A dynamic open-side flanker, at a time when a number seven was expected to keep his head in the ruck, Jones would not have looked out of place in the game today.
He was an automatic selection for most of his career, except on Sunday when his commitment to Christianity saw him forego all matches on religious grounds.
Nicknamed the ‘Ice-Man’ because of the number of icepacks he would use to treat injuries, Jones also has the unique distinction of being the only player to score the opening tries at two different Rugby World Cups.
He was an integral part of the All Blacks side that won the inaugural competition in 1987, as well as the side that had a disappointing loss in the semi-final to Australia 16-6.
Jones also represented the Blues in the first years of the competition, winning in 1996 and as captain in 1997, succeeding fellow All Black back rower Zinzan Brooke.
John Hart, the former All Blacks coach who first selected Jones to play for Auckland, called him “almost the perfect rugby player.”
He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2003.
- NZ Herald/