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Fiji Time: 8:45 AM on Saturday 19 April

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Rugby star dead, 29

Rashneel Kumar And Jo Kunaluvea
Saturday, November 17, 2012

FORMER Flying Fijians head coach Ilivasi Tabua says Fiji has lost one of its greatest rugby sons following the untimely death of former national rep Maleli Kunavore.

The former Toulouse player, 29, died at his home in Suva on Thursday night.

His father Joeli Nagiri told Times Sport his eldest son had returned home from dinner with former Flying Fijians teammates Norman Ligairi and Semisi Naevo before his death.

"I had called him a few hours earlier and I was shocked when his wife called back to tell us the sad news," Nagiri said.

"When my daughter called me again, I realised the news was true."

Kunavore, who was a household name in Nadroga rugby, made his debut for Fiji in 2005 after being spotted by former national mentor Wayne Pivac.

The Nadi Muslim Academy student went on to play seven Test matches for the Flying Fijians.

Tabua, who coached the Nakalavo villager at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, said Kunavore was a "very talented player".

"It was really inspirational to see someone coming from the village and getting quickly adapted to the top level rugby in France with Toulouse," Tabua said.

"At a very young age, he has been playing with the best in France and that's even before he was selected in the national team for the 2007 RWC."

Tabua said Kunavore's hard work and 'never-say-die' attitude got him into the national team for the 2007 RWC in France.

He said Kunavore was "very timid off field but on field he was very competitive".

"Kunavore was good at the kicking game and fast in breaking game and had confidence in his ability. He was not much of a talker but more of a doer.

"He never complained and quietly did what he was told to do."

Tabua said given the talent he had, Kunavore had potential to achieve much more for him and the nation.

Kunavore, who is close relative of France-based Napolioni Nalaga, underwent a cardiac operation in 2010 before retiring from professional rugby.

The details of his funeral arrangements will be announced later.