Drowned man's No 14 jersey may be retired

The jersey number of a Fijian rugby player who drowned off the Tararua coast could be retired permanently by his rugby club.

Eroni Ravanga Guanavou, 22, disappeared in the water off Akitio Beach on April 9 while swimming with friends. His body has not been found.

The Fijian man was in New Zealand on a three-month visa to play for the Puketoi Rugby Club in Pongaroa.

Coroner Chris Devonport published his findings into Mr Guanavou's death, writing that he suffered an epileptic seizure before he drowned.

Puketoi Rugby Club president Bruce Bowie was instrumental in bringing the winger to New Zealand. He said Mr Guanavou's No 14 jersey was not used this season, a move he would like to make permanent.

"It was just a thought at the time of mine and I still stand by it. He is still in the thoughts of the club members. I still have one of his friends staying with me now. Hardly a day goes by we don't talk about Eroni."

Permanently retiring the jersey would also honour another winger, Scott Maclean, who died of cancer at the start of the year. A decision will be made at the club's annual meeting.

Mr Bowie said Mr Guanavou was a talented rugby player, and the fastest runner he had seen in person.

"He was a very quiet, very humble and unassuming kind of guy with a great sense of humour.

He had a wicked sense of humour when you could prise it out of him."

Mr Devonport said Mr Guanavou had suffered a seizure while swimming last November in a swimming pool in Sri Lanka.

Mr Guanavou had been taking part in a sevens rugby tournament there. He was admitted to hospital where he was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Mr Devonport said Mr Guanavou's father had advised him not to go into water in case he had another seizure.

On the day Mr Guanavou disappeared he was at Akitio with friends Thomas Duxfield, Rupeni Tamanai and Epeli Rayagayaga.

The weather was fine and sunny, the coroner said.

"The sea was described as rough with a lot of white water and cold, with an incoming tide."

About 4pm the group decided to go for a swim.

Mr Guanavou, who was wearing shorts, was noticed by Mr Tamanai to have his arms crossed and appeared cold.

Mr Guanavou was seen to tilt forward and fall gently into the water. Mr Tamanai thought that Mr Guanavou was just playing around and expected him to stand up, Mr Devonport said.

"A wave washed over Mr Guanavou. He was observed approximately 5m away and face down in the water with only his shoulder exposed, but shaking as if having a fit.

"Another wave washed over Mr Guanavou and he was not seen again."

Volunteers, police, fishermen and helicopters searched for him for several days.

Manawatu Standard