January 23, 2014
Tofa soifua Fats
OPINION: I went into a state of shock when I heard about the death of the legendary former Samoan Rugby captain Peter Fatialofa.
"Fats" was one of the unluckiest players to have never played for the All Blacks.
In fact it's a travesty that he wasn't selected during the 1980s when he was at his peak and everyone in the Auckland rugby team was an All Black apart from him.
I'm convinced it wasn't because of his playing ability because Fats was often one of the Auckland team's best players.
Rather it was because he didn't quite fit the image.
He was seen as a rough diamond, and not what Auckland rugby wanted on the All Blacks stage.
I was lucky enough along with hundreds of others to become mates with Fats and was able to get his views on why he wasn't selected.
He said punching over one of Auckland rugby's top delegates – whose name I won't mention – at an after-match function probably didn't help his cause.
Fats was of the view that if you were going to call him a coconut you had better make sure that you were his mate. And the Auckland rugby delegate wasn't his mate!
So it seemed that Fats had missed his chance in terms of international rugby but then along came Manu Samoa in 1991 and the Rugby World Cup. And of course the rest is history.
Manu Samoa became a rugby force. Fats was the king and ruled Samoan rugby for the next five years, establishing himself as one of the great captains and props in world rugby.
Fats though was more than a great rugby player – he was a role model and leader for Pacific Island people, particularly Samoan.
Despite his success he remained humble.
He had a fabulous personality and always took care of people.
When I first went to Samoa in 1992 as a rugby reporter covering the Maori team he looked after me.
He even organised an interview with Prince Edward who wasn't giving interviews on his royal trip.
But Fats said to the Prince "Sir, can you have an interview with my Maori brother Willie Jackson", so how could the Prince have refused, particularly when he would have thought that I was part of Fats' family?
My lasting image of Fats came after Manu Samoa had smashed our Maori team by more than 20 points. He made me hop on a truck with him and we drove through the main street of Apia with Fats celebrating doing the haka Ka Mate Ka Mate.
It was so funny watching him and I feel privileged to have known the great man and Samoan leader Chief Peter Fatialofa.
No reira e te rangatira Fats, moe mai ra.
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