With the sad passing of power-wingers, All Blacks Inga Tuigamala and Joeli Vidiri, the tragedy of their early deaths highlighted men’s health and also reflected on their huge impact on the modern game.
The news hit within 24 odd hours, and it was reported that Diabetes complications led to the death of Tuigamala, but to the shock of some, Joeli Vidiri contracted Covid-19 that; along with the recurring medical issues related to his Kidney transplant, which so suddenly took the Sevens and XVs player.
‘Inga the Winger’ Va’aiga Lealuga Tuigamala came onto the rugby landscape as a fresh-faced 19-year old kid from Samoa, who broke the mold of the usual left-wing. His place was soon followed by more familiar names, like Norm Berryman, Jonah Lomu, and one Joeli Vidiri. All talented big men, who use their natural size and speed to evade, run around or ‘through the gate’ over the opposition.
A local hero in the Counties-Manukau province, Joeli Vidiri Natabua Nadriubalavu Nalewavada was born in Fiji and within years of immigrating to New Zealand, was dazzling coaches in the South Auckland club competition. Yet later in life, facing battles with kidney failure, his service to the community echoed similar work that All Blacks Inga Tuigamala and many, many other former AB’s played in their local schools, clubs, and in their shared passions to repay the faith that fans had for them.
An incredibly sad day continues 😔
Another one of our brothers taken. You’d struggle to meet a nicer guy than Joeli Vidiri, not to mention his remarkable skills on the field.
Rest in Love, All Black #973 🖤🕊 pic.twitter.com/rdud3jnEg5
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) February 25, 2022
As the news of Inga passing away on Thursday, February 24 was received, it was too quickly followed by the news that Joeli had succumbed to the pandemic, celebrating his honeymoon of his new partner’s home of America. It smacked fans of both men straight in the face. Former teammates and coaches are still coming to grips with the news, sharing memories of each man’s life, as social media reflects the men’s impact on both rugby union and rugby league.
It has only just been clarified that the Coronavirus had been a cause/symptom that has contributed to the passing of Vidiri, in the last few hours. A sad end to the pair’s lives, an end to their participation in the sport that gave them successful careers.
Passing of power-wingers, All Blacks Inga Tuigamala and Joeli Vidiri
Equally famed as rugby players, Tuigamala was awarded the MNZM (Member of the New Zealand order of Merit) in 2008. He also held the rare attribute of representing two nations. His career for New Zealand rugby consisted of 19 Tests (five tries), 39 games (14 tries), and included playing at the 1991 Rugby World Cup and against a World XV and the British and Irish Lions. He ran out for Auckland between 1988-1992 (49 games/28 tries), the NZ Colts 1988-89, NZ Schools 1986-87, NZ Under-19 in 1987.
A dual-code champion, Tuigamala was a power winger in any sport and he ably crossed from the XVs game to the 13-man code with ease. Signed by Wigan in 1993, his impact on English rugby league fans brought new admirers who both feared and loved the former-All Black. His big smile hid a huge talent to inspire teammates like Jason Robinson and Ireland’s head coach Andy Farrell.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell paid an emotional tribute to former team-mate Va'iga Tuigamala, whose death at the age of 52 was announced yesterday. #RTERugby pic.twitter.com/C0pRwznZdT
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 25, 2022
Transitioning to rugby league, he held three league titles with Wigan and two Challenge Cups victories. His time in UK rugby league included a mammoth victory over the Brisbane Broncos in 1994. As a league player, he was ultimately selected for 1995 Rugby League World Cup tournament, playing for his birth country Samoa.
At the end of that tournament, Tuigamala made a successful return to union with stints in the London Wasps; where that side won the Premiership in 1996. He then played for Newcastle, where he was a part of the team to win the Championship, alongside Scottish international Doddie Weir. This culminated in him representing Samoa, where he played 23 tests and was a part of the 1999 Rugby World Cup squad. An amazing career, covering two nations/two RWC, two hemispheres plus he earned the admiration of fans who would learn to love ‘Inga the Winger’.
A true great who gave everything on the field for New Zealand and Samoa
RIP Va’aiga Tuigamala pic.twitter.com/2ojl9DeO6p
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) February 24, 2022
It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Va’aiga (Inga) Tuigamala.
A true great of both codes who helped us win the 1997-98 Premiership title, Inga will be fondly remembered for his physicality on the field, and his friendship off it.
RIP Inga 💔 pic.twitter.com/P8HwQziF67
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) February 24, 2022
Of the many highlights identified by this reporter, was the thunderous way Va’aiga Tuigamala slammed the ball down over the line. That was usually after dispensing a fend that might see stars of the day; list David Campese there, who ended up flat on the grass chasing air, as Tuigamala headed over the line.
All Blacks Inga Tuigamala and Joeli Vidiri praised across both codes
Praise is being shone on each player’s career. And even while Vidiri only played two tests for New Zealand, his time with the rugby sevens team came at a time when the seven-a-side game was an expansion sport in the Commonwealth Games. So leading up to the 1998 Kuala Lumpur games, super-coach Gordon Tietjens employed the Counties pairing of Vidiri and Jonah Lomu, to bolster his team. Combining with All Blacks Sevens great Eric Rush, Christian Cullen, Caleb Ralph, the mega powers of Lomu & Vidiri swept aside their opposition to stand high on the podium.
Note: Because Vidiri played for the Fiji 7s side, he was not able to be selected for New Zealand, the man had a choice of whether to play again for Fiji or stand down for a three-year period to qualify. That showed a commitment that in some ways, was a year or two much of a wait (with his medical issues affecting the years after his debut season).
Tuigamala also claimed trophies across both codes. His Auckland Rugby province was a powerful group that held a tight grip over the movements of the Ranfurly Shield and produced a large number of All Blacks who played alongside Inga. Those men are lamenting the huge loss, especially as Tuigamala had recently been on a health and fitness change that was planned to extend his life after battles with weight and diabetes 2 [that ultimately was a cause toward his passing].
‘Give me hope Joeli’ became the chant for Counties-Manukau/Blues fans
At times, the ground announcer can launch a tune that distracts spectators. Some are even waited for yet, none will create the vocal response of ‘Give me hope Joeli’. With respect to Eddy Grant, the reworked song for Counties-Manukau fans was to reveal in the expectation that Joeli brought to his club. Pukekohe played a big role in the life of Vidiri, the club and the town gave him the support base for him and his family to live happily.
Devastated to hear of the passing of one of Counties Manukau’s finest. Gone but never forgotten. Rest in Love Joeli Vidiri 😢❤️🤍🖤https://t.co/ZqOQ2l41yT pic.twitter.com/MHmq4aCzod
— CountiesRugby (@CountiesRugby) February 25, 2022
Try scoring was a specialty of Joeli Vidiri. For the Blues, in the formative days of the Super Rugby professional era in the 1990s, scoring 43 tries in 61 games was a glorious record. And the one game that stands out for fans of the Flying Fijian was surely received. The 1996 Super Rugby final being a playground for Joeli to demonstrate his skill set.
In summary, the close timing of the deaths of both All Blacks Inga Tuigamala and Joeli Vidiri was a double blow to fans of the respected players. They each had different careers and successes post-Rugby yet, each has the respect of their peers and fans. No harsh words can be expressed for either, and they inspired players like Ben Atiga, Mils Muliaina, and Apollo Perelini, as well as countless current professionals who grew up on a diet of Inga or Joeli power plays. Both fine men and better people, charismatic and inspiring to both boys and girls around the world.
As best expressed by commentator Tony Johnson, “two players who could light up the world with a brilliant try, or just a brilliant smile”.
“Main photo credit”
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