Inga paid it forward for young player
Special act brought its own reward
One of the more memorable moments in a sports writing career occurred in the writing of All Black fullback Mils Muliaina's autobiography Living the Dream.
Among the items that Muliaina had retained from what had been a struggling childhood was a grainy photograph, (attached), of the occasion when a forward-thinking Invercargill schoolteacher decided to invite Inga Tuigamala to take a break from his own book promotion Inga the Winger tour.
Tuigamala went with the schoolteacher to visit the home of a couple of young brothers with prospects in rugby. They were tough times for the Muliaina family, but Mils never forgot the act of kindness from Tuigamala, and the boost it had given him.
When achieving All Blacks status for himself, Muliaina had never mentioned the incident when meeting Tuigamala. He was too shy to mention it, he said.
So armed with a copy of the photo, it was a phone call to Tuigamala's funeral home to ask if he could spare a few minutes of his time for a visit from a sports writer. He was wary, not knowing the writer from a bar of soap. But he was informed it was not something he should worry about, quite the opposite.
Anyway, after duly arriving at the suggested time, we sat down in his office and I asked if he recalled visiting a pair of young boys one evening in Invercargill when on his book tour.
The first thing he remembered was how cold it was on an Invercargill night. But I then asked if he had ever wondered whatever became of the boys? He said he hadn't recalled it until I raised the matter with him.
I handed over the photo and said to him, "Any idea who that might be?"
He looked at it and said, "Is that Mils?"
I said it was, and he took a moment or two to absorb the fact and said, "Wow, Mils is my favourite All Black, who would have believed that?"
He called in one of his sons, and said to him did he recognise who the boy was?
He said although he knew Mils had come to Auckland from Invercargill he had never connected the player with the boy he met.
But what summed up Tuigamala's reaction was not what he had done in Invercargill, it was the fact that he had a photo with his favourite All Black as a boy.