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Tributes paid to Christian rugby star 'Inga the Winger' who has died at 52

by Donna Birrell

Tributes are being paid to Christian rugby star, Va'aiga Tuigamala who has died at the age of 52. Many clubs observed a minute's silence to remember him at matches this weekend.

Tuigamala started his career in rugby union and became known globally as ‘Inga the Winger’. He played for the All Blacks at the 1991 Rugby Union World Cup before switching to represent his native Samoa in the 1995 Rugby League and 1999 union World Cups.

Tuigamala arrived in the UK in 1993 and played 102 games for Wigan Warriors during five seasons at the club. He scored 62 tries,  winning three league titles, two Challenge Cups, a Premiership and World Club Challenge.

Wigan executive director, Kris Radlinski said :

"His presence on the rugby field was huge. As a teenager, he gave me the most precious thing that anyone could, time.

"We would spend hours on the field doing one-on-ones together. It is a very sad day for the club. Rest in peace, my friend."

Former England Rugby Captain, Jason Robinson tweeted that he was ‘absolutely heartbroken’ saying Tuigamala had helped him change his life when he arrived at Wigan from New Zealand.

In 2012 Tuigamala wrote about his faith in sports blog, ‘Beyond the Ultimate’ :

“My passion was for sport and, like many youngsters, I was so caught up with it that I had little time for working out ‘the meaning of life‘. In my teens my sports career, especially rugby took off. I lived for sport and my social life. My family and God were way back in third and fourth places. Then some of my friends joined a youth fellowship, set up to encourage youngsters to consider the claims of Jesus Christ.

“I was pretty stubborn. I was born in Western Samoa and one of 14 children. Church on Sunday was an important part of our lives. But I noticed that many of these lads had a joy and peace, which was very real to them. I also had an economics teacher who was a Christian. She explained to me that I needed to give my life to Christ, and be forgiven. She said I needed to be born again.

“This happened in 1986. Rugby became the platform from which I could share my faith. This is something, which has become, more and more, a privilege to do.

“It is quite amazing how people do not bat an eyelid if you are into the new age movement or Eastern religion, but if you say you are a born-again Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, they ‘freak out‘.

“Preconceived ideas rob people of the truth and simplicity of following Jesus. My words of advice would be to pick up a Bible – get a modern translation – read the words of God, read about life and death and what happens afterwards.

“In 1 Corinthians 7:31 it says "this world in its present form is passing away". I am under no illusions! My rugby career will soon be over. In due course my life will come to an end. When I die I want to know that I am right with God."

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