Big crowd at Peter Fatialofa's funeral

A full house of guests attend the funeral service for former Samoan rugby great Peter Fatialofa...
A full house of guests attend the funeral service for former Samoan rugby great Peter Fatialofa at Vodafone Event Centre in Manukau City. Photo by Getty

He was a rugby legend, one of Samoa's favourite sons, and a cheeky charmer who loved a laugh. But to his eight children, Papali'itele Peter Fatialofa was just 'dad'.

And to wife Anne Fatialofa, who would have celebrated her 31st wedding anniversary with Fatialofa on Tuesday, he was "Fats''.

The former Manu Samoa captain, who led his team to the quarter finals at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, died suddenly while in Samoa last week, aged 54.

His funeral, attended by thousands of people at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau today, was filled with more laughter than tears. In a eulogy,

Mrs Fatialofa described how she wasn't able to go with him to the airport to say goodbye before he left for his last trip to Samoa. But in typical Fats fashion, he had "cracked her up'' with his text farewell, which read: "I don't know why I'm so shy to say goodbye to your eyes."

"Only Fats,'' she said. "I was cracking up.''

Mrs Fatialofa described how much Fats loved his children, and "did everything for those kids''.

"He'll tell them off but then 10 minutes later he's calling them to go for a ride with him or go to McDonald's or whatever.''

He had talked about moving to Samoa one day, and was proud of his role as coach of the Samoan women's rugby team.

"He was so proud of you girls,'' she said.

Jeremiah, the oldest of his eight children, said his father was known as a great rugby player, a legend and a community man.

"But to my brothers and sisters he was just dad,'' he said. "He always went out of his way to help anybody, no matter who it was, and no matter what type of person you were, and it's overwhelming to see the people that are here to pay tribute,'' Jeremiah said.

"We didn't always like sharing dad with everybody, but dad was always someone who wouldn't say no.''

Samoa's High Commissioner Leasi Tommy Scanlan also spoke at the funeral, describing Fatialofa as "a big chief with an even bigger heart''.

"He loved his rugby, his family, his mates, his country, and the Samoan people.''

He said Fatialofa had bridged the gap between Samoan and New Zealand rugby, between Samoan and Maori rugby, and between Samoan and other Pacific Island rugby.

"To have thousands of people stand for a minute's silence while millions of people watched from around the world, and both Manu Samoa and the All Blacks dedicate their games last weekend to Papali'itele Fatialofa, reaffirmed what a special man Fats was.''

Auckland mayor Len Brown said Fatialofa's greatest contribution was his ability to unite people.

"He wouldn't have been aware he was doing it but he most certainly was. He has brought us here again today as a city and as a nation. He made us laugh.''

Earlier, conch shells were blown as Fatialofa's casket was carried into the events centre by his sons, nephews, brother and brother-in-law, followed by Anne and other family members.

The Samoan flag was draped over the coffin, and Samoa's national anthem was sung to begin the service, led by the Reverend Karima Fa'ai.

Fatialofa's coffin was carried out after the service to his favourite song, 'We Are Samoa' and taken to one of his piano-moving vans. He was buried at the Manukau Memorial Gardens.

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