Kiwi rugby star dies after freak accident
Image: Ina Olaizola/ordizia rugby
The Spanish Rugby Federation has paid tribute to Kiwi lock Kawa Leauma after he died following a "freak accident" in the Netherlands, aged only 32.
The Auckland-born Leauma had been hospitalised and underwent surgery after he "suffered an accident that caused severe head trauma" on Saturday, the federation said.
Spanish media reports said Leauma fell eight metres from a building in Amsterdam. It has been reported his condition had "slightly improved" on Sunday after surgery but worsened 24 hours later.
"World Rugby, and Spanish rugby in particular, is in mourning, and from the Spanish Rugby Federation we can only thank the commitment of a player admired and loved by all his team-mates from XV del León [Spain's national men's team] and his club, AMPO Ordizia," the federation said in its obituary to Leauma.
Leauma, who played for the AMPO Ordizia club in Spain's Basque Country, was in Amsterdam for Spain's Rugby Europe Championship match against the Netherlands.
The federation said he died because of a "freak accident" suffered just hours after Spain beat the Netherlands 52-7 in a match that doubled as a qualifier for the next Rugby World Cup in France in 2023.
He was on-track to make his official international debut for Spain after becoming eligible through three years of residency, but he was withdrawn at the last minute because of doubts about eligibility. He played in a friendly for Spain against an Italian side in Madrid in October. The federation said its president Alfonso Feijoo and Ordizia sports director Iñigo Marotias would meet Leauma's wife when she arrived in Amsterdam.
In the obituary, Leauma was described as "a person who made himself loved" and made his mark on Spanish rugby.
At 197cm and weighing 110kg, Leauma was hoping to become a regular in Spain's team.The federation said they would honour his memory by trying to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since their only appearance in the UK in 1999.
Leauma played for a handful of Auckland clubs, including Otahuhu, Papatoetoe, Mount Wellington and Manukau Rovers. A blindside flanker, No 8 or lock, he represented Samoa's under-20s and played for Auckland's sevens team.
Leauma also took his rugby career to Australia, playing for the Sydney Rays and West Harbour clubs in New South Wales, before moving to Spain in 2018.
The Mount Wellington and Papatoetoe clubs led the tributes for Leauma on social media.
"These posts aren't easy to do and this one in particular is pretty upsetting as this club acknowledges the passing of Kawa Leauma," Mount Wellington's Facebook post said.
"Kawa was an integral part of our Mount Wellington Premier side, great player and humble both on and off the field and we enjoyed seeing him continue to thrive beyond his time at our club. He will be sorely missed by many of our community and we extend our sincere condolences to his wife and family as they navigate this tough time in a foreign country."
Papatoetoe tribute's said "another brother gone way too soon".
"Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of Kawwa Leuma who passed away in a tragic accident whilst living abroad in Spain," the club's Facebook post said.
"Kawwa had been playing professional rugby and just recently made his international debut for Spain. He was part of a strong Papatoetoe U21s team back in 2010.
"Rest in love brother Kawwa."