6 Nov 2013

Sport: Samoan rugby legend Papaliitele Peter Fatialofa dies

5:50 pm on 6 November 2013

There is shock in Samoa after the death of the former Manu Samoa rugby captain Papaliitele Peter Fatialofa, who died this morning at the age of 54.

As Vinnie Wylie reports, he is being remembered as a generous family man who loved his rugby.

Local radio station Talofa FM in Samoa reports that people found Papaliitele Peter Fatialofa in his car in front of a local market at Fugalei in Apia after 7 this morning. An ambulance took him to the national hospital where he was pronounced dead. Our correspondent in Apia, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, says the news has left people in Samoa lost for words.

"AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: I know the whole country is now mourning when they get the news, the death of one of our very well-known sons of Samoa. He did a lot, not only for the Manu Samoa team, but for the development of the sport in the country and to put Samoa on the map."

Fatialofa made his rugby debut for the Ponsonby senior club side in 1980. He graduated to the all-conquering Auckland team and was part of their Ranfurly Shield reign from 1985 to 1993. Auckland's coach at the time, Maurice Trapp, says Fatialofa was given the title of keeper of the shield.

MAURICE TRAPP: When it was presented at the end of each of those games it was his role. Wherever he went the shield went with him. It did go missing once, but he found it the next day, I think.

The former All Black flanker Michael Jones, who also coached and played for Samoa, says in his early days playing for Auckland, Fats kept an eye on him and even sorted out the opposition on his behalf a few times.

MICHAEL JONES: We were playing Otago and one of the Otago forwards - it was back in the bad old days I suppose - hit me. I didn't see it coming. Then I turned and next thing I know the guy was lying on the ground. I don't know if he was out cold, but he was pretty much worse for wear. (Chuckles) Fats had obviously come in and saw what happened and took offence and knocked the living daylights out of him. And the referee asked him 'Peter Fats, why did you do that?' And Fats said 'Well, Mike is a young Christian boy. He wasn't going to do it so I did it for him'. That's the type of guy he was to me, on and off the field.

Fatialofa was capped 34 times for Samoa and led them at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where they recorded a famous victory over Wales. Alama Ieremia played alongside Fatialofa in the Samoa team in the early 1990s and says he was the sort of person people wanted to follow.

ALAMA IEREMIA: He always led by example and he was very inspirational to a lot of us young players at the time that came through - his values and all that in terms of what we were representing was always at the front of Fats' mind and we always knew about that. He was a great team and he was basically the life and the spirit of all the teams that I was associated with. He was a very close friend and very sad to lose him.

Fatialofa was still actively involved in rugby and coached the national Manusina team, who earlier this year qualified for next year's Women's Rugby World Cup in Paris. He was also heavily involved in organising an upcoming match between the Wellington Samoans and Auckland Samoans.