Tragic soldier’s ‘enthusiasm and humour touched all those that he worked with’

Savenaca Koroibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122859001
Savenaca Koroibulileka, who died after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham EMN-160926-122859001

Friends and colleagues of a popular soldier who tragically died after collapsing while playing rugby have been paying tribute to a “one-off” character who always had a smile on his face.

Savenaca Koroibulileka, 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.

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

Savenaca, who was from Fiji, was a former member of 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. He left a couple of years ago, and worked as a carer in Oakham at Rutland Care Village, whilst also serving with 159 Regiment RLC – an army reserve regiment.

Just a couple of months ago, he joined The Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS) which provides professional soldiers to protect military bases. He was based at St George’s Barracks, in North Luffenham.

A post on 159 Regiment RLC’s Facebook page reads: “Pte Koro was a member of the regimental family for just over a year.

“During this time, his enthusiasm and humour touched all those that he worked and socialised with. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time.”

Staff at Rutland Care Village, in Oakham, said they had been left “saddened and shocked by the sudden death of a very dear colleague and friend”.

In a statement the organisation said: “Tu was an extremely dedicated member of the team, a family man, and will be missed by colleagues, residents and families.

“He always had a smile on his face and a sense of humour that brightened everybody’s day.

“Our thoughts are with his wife, Sili, their boys and all close friends.”

In a statement, Oakham RFC said: “Oakham RFC is saddened to announce the passing of Savenaca Koroibulileka on Saturday, September 24, 2016.

“Savenaca collapsed shortly after the start of the second half during the 1st team match between Oakham and West Brigdford at the Rutland Showground.

“The club is grateful to the work of the ambulance service who were promptly in attendance.

“Despite their best efforts Savenaca was pronounced dead on arrival at Peterborough Hospital.

“The thoughts and prayers of the club, its players and supporters are all with Savenaca’s family at this very difficult time.”

David Smiter served with Savenaca – known to friends as Savy, Koro or Tu – 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.

“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 Savenaca 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 Savenaca’s family and pay for anything they need at this difficult time.

The initial target of £3,500 was reached within 24 hours and the total stood at £8,268 at the time the Mercury went to press.

David added: “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 if it does take place here it will be an absolutely huge occasion, because so many people would want to pay their respects.”

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. ”

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

Bourne Rugby Club player Neil Oglesbee said: “I played against him when he was a Poacher and also alongside him for Bourne.

“He was one of those guys nobody could say a bad word about, whenever we found out he was playing there was a real buzz about the changing room, He would always back you up and did everything with a smile on his face.

“An honour to play alongside and a supremely talented player as comfortable in the backs or in the forwards. An honour to have captained and been on the same field as him. RIP Koro.”

In a Facebook post, West Bridgford RFC said: “RIP Savenaca 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 Savenaca’s family, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/david-smiter