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Statement from the family of Va'aiga Lealuga Tuigamala - New Zealand Rugby

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

It is with great sadness and broken hearts that we announce our husband, father and grandfather has passed away unexpectedly. Vaaiga Lealuga Tuigamala was respected and recognised globally as ‘Inga The Winger’ - former All Black, Manu Samoa, New Castle Falcon, London Wasp and Wigan Warrior. To us, he was an adoring family man, a proud Samoan and a loyal servant of God. We know that people admired him for the way he conducted himself through every season of life; with a cheeky grin from ear to ear and a heart that was always ready to serve. If people ever wanted to know what it means to be humble, courageous and God-fearing, he was a true testament. We will always remember him for a smile that was so infectious it could light up an entire stadium. Inga never let anyone dim his light and his humble heart was always about serving others. The one defining trait about Inga was that he loved people.

We would like to acknowledge all the medical professionals who worked hard to keep him with us. We would also like to thank all those who have prayed and sent their well wishes and condolences. We and our wider family take comfort in knowing you are all standing with us during this difficult time.

We are still finalising funeral arrangements and ask media to please respect our privacy. It is a tragedy for anyone to suffer a loss like ours, and it is made even harder in these strange times. We thank you for your continued prayers.

Inga is survived by his wife Daphne, and children Jordan, Savaise (Bubba), Salote and Vaisilika.

New Zealand Rugby Statement

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) is mourning the death of former All Black Fesola’i Va’aiga Tuigamala (MNZM), who passed away in Auckland last night at the age of 52.

Known for his blockbusting and dynamic play on the wing and infectious personality, Tuigamala played 20 matches for the All Blacks from 1989 to 1993, including 19 Tests, and was a member of the 1991 Rugby World Cup squad.

Tuigamala emerged through the Ponsonby Rugby Club and was a central figure for the dominant Auckland provincial teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where he transformed the profile of an outside back with his size and power.

After playing rugby league in the UK for Wigan, he returned to rugby and played 23 Tests for Samoa, including at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Tuigamala’s immense contribution to the game will be acknowledged during the two New Zealand-based DHL Super Rugby Pacific matches in Dunedin, where teams will wear black arm bands and pause for a moment’s silence before kick-off.

Former All Black, teammate and friend Saveatama Eroni Clarke has remembered Tuigamala today.

"Inga was certainly a unique human being. As an athlete, we’ve seen him terrorise opposition with his amazing agility, power and speed, his uncompromising style of defence and such gifted finishing.

"Away from the field, his infectious, warm, charismatic smile lit up a room, he was a statesman and an amazing influencer. He championed his Pasifika community yet always gave time for everyone. But his faith was his foundation as well as love for his family.

"I am privileged too, as many others of us have had to journey in life with him on and off the field. Our prayers and love are with Daphne, his children, grandchildren, mum and all the Tuigamala family."

NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson has passed on his condolences to the Tuigamala aiga (family).

"Inga lit up our sport on and off the field with the combination of his warmth as a person, and his incredible natural talent as a player. He undoubtedly inspired a generation of backs, especially Pasifika, to follow in his footsteps.

"His contribution to rugby and to his community off the field has been immense and will not be forgotten. Our sincere condolences go out to Va’aiga’s wife Daphne and their children at this difficult time."

All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster, who played provincial rugby against Tuigamala in their playing days, has paid tribute on behalf of the All Blacks.

"It’s incredibly sad to hear the loss of a very special man. He was an iconic player and personality of his time and continued to make a huge impact in his community after his playing days.

"The biggest memories for me are his smile, his joy of playing and his commitment to his family and his faith, which was the foundation of his life.

"We send all our love and condolences to his family."

Fesola'i Va’aiga Tuigamala (MNZM) - mini bio

All Black #900, Tuigamala debuted in 1989 and quickly demonstrated his skill and strength, producing some memorable tries in the black jersey that inspired a generation of explosive wingers.

With a personality that transcended his game, he became known as "Inga the Winger", and a hero to many, especially young Pasifika players. Fiercely proud of his heritage, Samoan-born Tuigamala was able to represent Manu Samoa in 23 Tests later in his career, including at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

In between his international rugby stints, he transferred his talents to the 13-man game, playing more than 100 matches for the Wigan Warriors, unsurprisingly becoming a fan favourite and beloved member of the rugby league community. Following the end of his international career with Manu Samoa, he returned to the United Kingdom to see out his playing days in English club rugby with the London Wasps and Newcastle.

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