All Blacks great Va'aiga 'Inga' Tuigamala passes away

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Born, September 4, 1969, Faleasiu, Samoa. Died, February 24, 2022, Auckland. All Black No900. 19 Tests five tries), 39 games (14 tries). Auckland 1988-1992 49 games, 28 tries; NZ Colts 1988-89, New Zealand b 1991, NZ Schools 1986-87, NZ Under-19 1987.

An immensely strong 100kg outside back, Tuigamala was an instant crowd favourite for his hard-running game that saw him make the All Blacks in 1989 and win even more hearts around the rugby world.

After bursting onto the rugby scene for Auckland in 1988, the big wing played five seasons, in which he played 19 Tests for the All Blacks, 39 games in total and 49 games for Auckland, before taking up a five-season stint in rugby league with British club Wigan where he played 102 games and scored 62 tries. He shared three league titles with the club and two Challenge Cups.

He returned to rugby in 1996 and played for Wasps and Newcastle in the English Premiership in 126 games scoring 62 tries. He also played 24 Tests for Samoa.  That allowed him to represent both New Zealand (1991) and Samoa (1999) at Rugby World Cups.

During his league stint he played for Samoa at the Rugby League World Cup in 1995.

His rugby career straddled the amateur-professional change in rugby. In the latter part of his career, he was part of a Samoan team that achieved a memorable 38-31 win over Wales at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, while his debut Test for Samoa saw them beat Ireland 40-25 in Dublin.

A product of Kelston Boys' High School, Tuigamala was prominent in the Pasifika community in Auckland after his return from England. He had a funeral directing business for several years. He was awarded an MNZM in 2008 for services to rugby and the community.

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.” 

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