Samoan rugby legend Peter Fatialofa dies

MICHAEL FIELD AND DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 12:56 06/11/2013
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Samoan and Auckland rugby legend Peter Fatialofa has died suddenly, aged just 54.

Peter Fatialofa
Neil Reid
LEGEND GONE: Popular Samoan rugby identity Peter Fatialofa died aged 54 after taking ill suddenly.
Peter Fatialofa funeral
MICHAEL BRADLEY Zoom
Mourners pay their respects to Peter Fatialofa.

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World rugby personality Peter Fatialofa's death has stunned fans not only in his homeland of Samoa but also in Auckland where he won respect for his sincerity, dignity and humour.

The 54-year-old died of what appeared to be a heart attack after parking his car outside an Apia supermarket this morning.

He was taken to the Tupua Tamasese Hospital where he was pronounced dead. His funeral will take place in Auckland, his family say.

Most of his family, including eight children, live in Auckland and were meeting last night to discuss funeral arrangements.

A Catholic, he is expected to be farewelled at a requiem Mass later this week.

As news spread around Apia, police blocked roads to the hospital as hundreds of people sought to pay respect.

Fatialofa played for Manu Samoa between 1988 and 1996, making 34 test appearances.

He played in two World Cups, most famously leading Samoa into the quarterfinals in the 1991 tournament, with a huge upset win over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.

The Ponsonby club stalwart played 72 games for Auckland and was part of their stunning Ranfurly Shield reign from 1985 to 1993.

The burly prop, who had the Samoan chiefly title of Papali'itele, was often the custodian of the Log o' Wood and became a cult figure with his strength honed from working his furniture removal business and became known as New Zealand's most famous piano-mover.

His death was a major topic on Twitter and Facebook.

At one point radio stations in Samoa pleaded on air with people not to post the news on social networks as the family in Auckland had not been told.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown tweeted that all Aucklanders' "thoughts go out to the Fatialofa family with the loss one of our great Auckland and Samoan rugby legends".

All Black Bryan Williams described his fellow Samoan and Ponsonby stalwart as "larger than life". "What he did for Samoa, for Auckland, and for Ponsonby was far more than just rugby. He transcended boundaries and brought people together."

Samoa Rugby Union chief executive Fred Amoa said they had lost an outstanding person and a rugby ambassador worldwide.

"Papali'itele's devotion to rugby was and will continue to be an example of strong patriotism for all of us."

Fatialofa was a made a Member of the New Zealand Order of merit in 1996 for his services to rugby.

He then moved back to Samoa, where last year he set up a tour company, Fats Tours.

"I wanted to build something up here in Samoa for my family," he told Fairfax Media last year.

"One day when they've got older and want to come home, they will have something to come home to.

"I am just trying to do what my dad did for us. That's the reason why I've come back."

Fatialofa spent much of his childhood in Samoa before bursting on to the Auckland rugby scene with his powerhouse performances for the famed Ponsonby club side.

Journalist Phil Gifford, who worked with Fatialofa on his biography, said he was "larger than life" and revered both in New Zealand and Samoa.

"He was hugely passionate about Samoan rugby and a real driving force of that 1991 World Cup where they really made their name."

Former Manukau Courier sports editor and later rugby union spokesman Brian Finn recalled the way Fatialofa captained Manu Samoa in their first test against New Zealand at Eden Park in 1993. The All Blacks were to do the haka first, followed by the Samoans with their Manu.

"But as the All Blacks got halfway through the haka Manu Samoa launched into the Manu - and timed it so that both teams would finish at exactly the same moment," Finn said.

"When the crowd realised what was happening, they went nuts. It was genuinely spine-tingling.

"When asked about it in the press conference afterwards, Fats said yeah that was the agreement but when they got out on the field 'the boys just got carried away'." The All Blacks won 35-13.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said Fatialofa was one of those great characters "who was genuine, honest and what you saw was what you got."

NZ First leader Winston Peters said Fatialofa was a "dignified man with a great sense of pride". 

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- Fairfax Media

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