Moving funeral for the great Tuigamala All Black

Va’aiga ‘Inga’ Tuigamala’s widow, Daphne Tuigamala, paid tribute to the beloved sports legend during a touching funeral in Auckland today.

Daphne told mourners at Kelston Boys High School that she met Inga when the pair were teenagers but she “wasn’t that enthusiastic but he was so persistent”.

“The commitment that drove me to pursue me was on another level. So much so that I commented on a nice car I saw on the road one day. A few weeks later, he came up with this exact car, just to impress me.”

This Monday, the couple would have celebrated 30 years of marriage, she said.

“We almost made it, honey. Good night, my love…doing life without you will never be the same.

“The world loved and adored you, but we were your world.”

Entry is limited to 100 people under Covid-19 red light restrictions, but a live stream of the service is shown on YouTube.

The 19-test All Black, known to a generation of fans as “Inga the Winger”, died suddenly aged 52 on February 24.

Fesola’i Onosa’i Pisitoa Tuigamala thanked the mourners, including the Consul General of Samoa, Sir Graham Henry and Sir Michael Jones.

“Inga is a public man. He is not only our family, but we have noticed the love around the world, that people who live far away travel to be here today for Inga’s funeral.”

Pastor Tavale shared prayers and said they were there for “Inga the Winger”.

“We are here to celebrate the man he was.”

Tuigamala’s brother, Afioga Tamapa’a, spoke on behalf of their mother.

“This guy, to be honest, was one of the ugliest kids in our family when he was born,” he laughed.

The Tuigamala family arrived in New Zealand in 1974, when Inga was 4, and moved to Invercargill.

“Basically, he’s a Southland boy.”

He was a boy who always forgot to bring socks inside, which was not a good idea in a cold Southland winter, when they were going out hard.

“The next minute I can smell something. It was Inga’s socks in the oven.”

The superstar winger’s death has stunned the sporting world, with fans and former players mourning the loss of a man loved for his dynamic, dynamic play on the pitch and infectious personality off the pitch.

One of his sons remembers his father’s “infectious smile”.

“A smile that brought our people together…that brought so much joy and laughter to our mom’s life.”

“Dad, I’m so proud to be your son.”

“We love you so much. You won your race, mate”

His daughter Salote Tuigamala has opened up about how much her dad enjoyed it last year.

“He was happier than he had ever been…we take a lot of comfort from that.

“He reversed his diabetes. He went on bike rides. He took mom out for coffee, even though he told me he was going to a meeting. He spent time with his grandkids. He had to take care of of our beautiful grandmother.”

“I just want to say, dad, thank you for loving us…and especially all of your grandchildren. We love you dad, your smile and your voice will be missed.”

Tuigamala’s move to the league came after playing 19 Tests for the pre-professional All Blacks between 1991 and 1993, scoring five tries in the black shirt.

Later, Tuigamala donned his birth country’s blue and white kit, scoring 23 Tests for Manu Samoa from 1996.

Auckland and Ponsonby, as well as UK-based Wasps and Newcastle Falcons, also benefited from his dazzling power, speed and skill, before Tuigamala hung up his boots in 2002.

Following news of his death, former Wallaby Tim Horan likened Tuigamala to another powerful All Black wing guaranteed to strike fear into the opposition.

“Inga was Jonah before Jonah came along,” Horan tweeted.

“Jonah & Inga where the 2 All Blacks players you never wanted to see with the ball.”

The All Blacks also paid tribute on Twitter, calling Tuigamala “an icon and an inspiration” who achieved things on and off the pitch that others “could only dream of”.

“All Black number 900, you’ll never be [be] forget it.”

Off the pitch, Tuigamala was a married father and grandfather, and held the primary chieftaincy titles of Tuigamala and Fesola’i, given to him by his aiga (extended family) and villages in Samoa.

At the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Tuigamala was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for service to rugby and the community.

The following year he traveled to Samoa with David Tua to help in the aftermath of the Samoan tsunami, which killed 180 people across Polynesia.

John Key has also spent time with Tuigamala, crediting the rugby great with helping his successful election result in 2008 after joining the future prime minister on the campaign trail.

“I will always remember Inga for her contagious smile and bravery.”

Life after rugby also saw Tuigamala become an undertaker, but Tuigamala & Sons went into liquidation in 2013.

At the time, Tuigamala owed about $130,000 in unpaid funeral expenses and said he struggled to collect money from grieving relatives.

“I’m not one to turn people away in times of need,” he said.

But he refused to be discouraged and wanted no mercy.

“You’re only a failure if you get knocked down and stay on the ground. My passion for helping my community and my people still burns my stomach.”

Tuigamala’s cause of death has not yet been confirmed, but he was set to release a new series of videos about his health issues, including being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last year and having already suffered a stroke.

“The reality was that I was facing an early graveyard,” Tuigamala said in a preview video for the series, Project ODICE (Champion Obesity and Diabetes Intervention Evangelist).

“My dad passed away at the age of 48 from a stroke…I guess for me, I just don’t want to be another statistic.”

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