A former All Blacks manager and national rugby president has claimed a Polynesian star was robbed of a match appearance because the tour bosses couldn't spell his name.

The outrageous revelation was made by West Coast rugby identity John Sturgeon, and brought howls of laughter from a Greymouth audience.

The story concerned the brilliant Samoa-born Auckland wing Va'aiga Tuigamala.

He was set to be selected by famed All Black coach Alex Wyllie — a former test forward — during the 1989 European tour.


Tuigamala's Auckland teammate Terry Wright played instead.

Sturgeon revealed the extraordinary story while speaking at a carpark ceremony in October last year, where Rugby Park was officially renamed John Sturgeon Park before a match between West Coast and Wairarapa Bush.

Sturgeon told the audience: "I spoke more with Alex Wyllie last night than I ever spoke to him before.

John Sturgeon was awarded lifetime membership in 2012. Photo / Photosport
John Sturgeon was awarded lifetime membership in 2012. Photo / Photosport

"We'd only sit and talk about players, who he was going to dump and who he wanted to keep in the team

"I'll just give you some of the funny things that happened, and this was a funny one really.

"We were picking the team in Wales — it used to be done in my room. We had (first five-eighths) Grant Fox in to talk about who he thought should be in the backs, we had (captain) Buck Shelford in to talk about who he thought should be in the forwards.

"Then Wyllie booted them out and said what do you reckon?

"I said 'I don't know. You read them out and I'll write them down'. I'm sitting there writing the team out and we got to the wingers, and he said 'Tuigamala'.

"I said 'how do you spell that?'. He said 'don't worry about it, put Terry Wright in'.

Sturgeon opted not to comment when contacted by the Herald, apart from saying he could not remember which particular game the incident involved when asked if it was the test match.

The All Blacks thrashed Wales 34-9 on that tour with Wright scoring one of their four tries. Tuigamala was not included among the six reserves - none took the field anyway - in the test which was played in front of a 55,000 crowd.

The All Blacks also played six Welsh club sides prior to the international.

Wyllie was a tough forward who went on to become one of the great New Zealand rugby coaches.

He was an assistant to Brian Lochore with the 1987 World Cup winning team.

Lochore, a New Zealand rugby legend from Wairarapa Bush, was at the Greymouth game in October.

Tuigamala and others may not find the story so funny.

Tuigamala eventually made his test debut in 1991 against the USA in a World Cup game at Gloucester, the first of his 19 All Black tests.

"Inga the Winger" went on to have a long rugby career with Samoa, after a league stint at the famous English club Wigan.

Sturgeon is also a former New Zealand Rugby Football Union council member and life member, and former West Coast rugby chairman/life member.

He was All Blacks manager from 1988 to 1991, and managed other teams including New Zealand Colts, Northern Maori and the national Sevens.

He is also a life trustee of the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation.

Sturgeon received a Queen's 1990 Commemorative Medal for service to rugby, mining and the community, and was made an MBE in 1991 for his services to sport.