Originally from Samoa, he represented the New Zealand All Blacks in 19 test matches, including at the 1991 rugby World Cup, and later played for Samoa.
Va’aiga played Rugby League in the great Wigan Warriors side of the mid-1990s, which beat the Brisbane Broncos in the 1994 World Club Challenge.
But Va’aiga was also known as a Christian. He wrote about how he came to faith in Jesus: ‘Before I became a Christian I lived for sport and my social life. Then some of my friends joined a youth fellowship, set up to encourage youngsters to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. 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.
‘In 1 Corinthians 7:31 the Apostle Paul 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.’
Va’aiga had a huge influence on Wigan teammate Jason Robinson, who had a very successful rugby career but whose personal life was out of control. He was drinking heavily six nights a week and came to the point of considering suicide.
Robinson said: ‘I remember Va’aiga told me that he had dreamt about me: “I saw you stood on the top of the world. But as I watched, slowly everything began to crumble beneath your feet.” He was so right. I was a troubled soul. Had it not been for Va’aiga coming into my life I certainly wouldn’t have the hope that I’ve got now. And hope is something that people can’t take away.’
That hope came through Tuigamala introducing Jason to his Christian faith.
Jason said, ‘I used to watch him in the dressing-room and thought what is it about this guy? He didn’t go out drinking, he wasn’t looking round the car park to see if anyone had a better car, he didn’t sleep around, all the things that you – misguidedly – think are the clever things to do. I didn’t have to ask him the secret of this happiness, I knew what it was – his relationship with God.’
Peter Milsom is an elder at St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff and Chairman of Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales.