Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: The splendour of Fatialofa

Generous, welcoming, compassionate. They are not the usual descriptions for a front row prop like Peter Fatialofa, a bloke who stuck his melon into thousands of scrums and loved the physical conflict of rugby.

But Fatialofa was not your standard sort of prop who like to use their physical menace to protect their private space.

Samoan rugby legend Peter Fatialofa dies

Once he finished his games and that limping tread rejoined the rest of the world, Fatialofa had a marvelous rapport and time for those who were interested in his sport, his Manu Samoa side and his island nation.

He would sing, dance, drink and chat to anyone. Life was for living while manners and enjoyment were a huge part of Fatialofa's personal armoury.

On the track there was a serious rumble about Fatialofa, a man who should have found his way into an All Black jersey sometime in the late 80's before his switch to Samoa.
What a move that was for Fats and the island nation.

Those of us who had watched him perform strongly for Auckland knew his ability and he way he could encourage others around him to lift their game.

When Samoa made it to the World Cup for the first time in 1991, a few of us who had seen more of men like Fatialofa, Apollo Perelini, Sila Vaifale, To'o Vaega and Frank Bunce, suggested the tournament would receive a real shake when these men took the field.

Most teams at that tournament kept the public away from their training runs and team confines but that was not Samoa's practice nor the intention of men like Fatialofa and the hierarchy of Tate Simi, Peter Schuster and Bryan Williams.

They were family and treated everyone who visited them as part of a greater rugby clan.
We watched them train one day on the outskirts of Edinburgh as they prepared for their quarterfinal against Scotland. By that stage the Samoans were showing signs of some battle fatigue and did not have quite the zip they had in previous matches.

Broadcasting legend Bill McLaren was at training with lists and notes to help him identify the players. He asked me for some identification and background assistance in exchange for one of his famous Hawick sweets. Hearing him practice the pronunciation of the Samoan names was a glorious curtainraiser.

And that Fatialofa, he would say, what a massive man for his team and his nations, as he detoured into similes about reconfigured steam engines and bringing joy from the isles to the dark streets of the tournament.

That was Fats. He led his team with a bravado and splendour which is not seen enough these days and sadly for his family, relations, friends and the game he loved, will not be seen from him again.

- NZ Herald

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