Friends and colleagues remember ‘majestic’ Oakham rugby player who tragically died after collapsing during match

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122828001

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122828001

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Tributes have been flooding in for tragic rugby player Savanaca Kokoibulileka who died after collapsing during a match at the weekend.

The popular player, who was in his 30s, was playing for Midlands 2 East (South) side Oakham when he collapsed during the second half of their match against West Bridgford on Saturday.

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122817001

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122817001

Despite the best efforts of paramedics, he was pronounced dead on arrival at Peterborough City Hospital.

David Smiter served with Savanaca – known to friends as Savy or Koro – in 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

He said: “I joined the army in 2000 and Savy joined in 2002 or 2003.

“We were in the same platoon – he was someone I saw virtually every day for six years until I left in 2008.

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122838001

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122838001

“We had been to Northern Ireland together, and Iraq. He was the sort of the person that, whatever the situation, he would have a smile on his face and get morale up. You don’t get many people like that these days – he was a one-off.”

It is understood that Savanaca was married and had four sons.

As well as playing for Oakham, he is said to have also played for Bourne Rugby Club amongst others.

David, who lives in Northampton, has set up a JustGiving page to help support Savanaca’s family and pay for anything they need at this difficult time.

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122909001

Savanaca Kokoibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122909001

The initial target of £3,500 was reached within 24 hours and the total currently stands at £4,375.

David added: “I have five children myself and if anything ever happened to me I would hope someone would so the same.”

Savanaca was Fijian and news of his tragic death has quickly spread across the globe.

David said: “Savy loved rugby. He was a majestic player and I reckon he could easily have played for the Fijian national team.

“It’s tragic that he died - but he was doing something he loved.

“All the photos I have seen of him in the past day or so show him either smiling or playing rugby. That sums him up.”

David said past and present members of the Royal Anglian Regiment have been left stunned by the news, adding: “The regiment is very family-orientated – a massive band of brothers and we have lost one of our own.

“I’m not sure whether he will be flown home to Fiji for a funeral or whether that will take place here. But it does take place here it will be an absolutely huge occasion, because so many people would want to pay their respects.”Savan

It is understood that Savanaca had recently been serving with the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS), which provides professional soldiers to meet armed security requirements at military bases.

Friends and former colleagues have been paying tribute on Facebook. Tom Armstrong wrote: “Today I have had a drink for Tu/Koro. Nothing I will do will bring you back but I promise from the bottom of my heart I will do everything I can for you 4 boys and wife. I love you brother Xx.”

Jerry King wrote: “Absolutely shocked and gutted to lose a mate. All here in Australia. Mandurah Raw prawns and Rockingham Chairs pass on theie Sincere Condolences. We raised a glass in your honour. Rip.”

Tom Marler Mellor wrote: “RIP brother. The pitch in the sky has another hero to grace its field.”

In a Facebook post, West Bridgford RFC said: “During the fixture between West Bridgford RFC 1st XV and Oakham RFC, it is with deep regret and sadness to report the passing of one of the Oakham players midway the second half.

“RIP Savanaca Kokoibulileka. All at WBRFC would like to send their prayers and deepest condolences to the family and Oakham RFC.”

To make a donation to the appeal set up for Savanaca’s family, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/david-smiter

Would you like to pay tribute to Savanaca? Email jonathan.sandall@jpress.co.uk