A coroner has found that an Auckland rugby player died from complications from blunt trauma to the head.
Viliami Halaifonua, also known as Willie, died in July, 2013, in Auckland City Hospital after collapsing at a rugby match. He was 27.
Turea Tohi, the widow of Takapuna Rugby Club player Willie Halaifonua. Photo / Greg Bowker

Turea Tohi, the widow of Takapuna Rugby Club player Willie Halaifonua. Photo / Greg Bowker


Halaifonua, a father of two young children, had been playing a senior game of rugby for Takapuna against Massey at the Onewa Domain, Takapuna, on July 20.

The report says that Halaifonua was very prominent in the match, running the ball up several times in the rucks and mauls.
“There was no obvious point in the game were Mr Halaifonua could have been seen to sustain a head injury,” the report said.
“For all intents and purposes, his play and response on the field was unremarkable and not unlike many of the other players.”
However, about 10 minutes before the match ended, Halaifonua has again run the ball up the field and clashed with a Massey player.
The clash has resulted in the Massey player becoming semi-conscious on the ground. At that point, the referee stopped the game to check on that player’s welfare.
“Mr Halaifonua appeared to be fine and unfazed by the clash.”
Halaifonua’s team gathered to discuss the last few minutes of the match. The report indicates that again, Halaifonua appeared to be fine.
However, minutes later, Halaifonua dropped to the ground.
Continued below.
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“The game concluded and as the teams were lining up to go through the formality of shaking hands with each other, it was noted that Mr Halaifonua dropped to the ground on his knees and then collapsed into a semi-conscious state.
“Mr Halaifonua was struggling to regain consciousness going in and out several times. At one point, he was witnessed to be experiencing a seizure.”
The rugby player was taken to Auckland City Hospital where CT scans found he had suffered a large injury to the left side of the brain.
Work was carried out to alleviate pressure and reduce bleeding. Despite doctors’ moves to help him, the injury was too extensive.
After consultation Halaifonua’s family, the decision was made to withdraw more treatment.
He died on the evening of July 23, as a result of a blunt trauma to the head with subdural haematoma.
In the report, Coroner Brandt Shortland outlined the importance of removing any rugby player from the field if they are suspected of a head injury after a collision on the field.
He recommended that ongoing and continued programmes be carried out by top rugby organisations – including NZ Rugby – to ensure players’ safety, in terms of identifying potential concussion injuries at all levels of club rugby.
“In recent times there has been a move internationally in both rugby union and rugby league to remove players who potentially have suffered a concussion or brain injury during the game.
“They are submitted to a number of tests and if they are unable to meet the criteria to return to the field, they are removed from the game and medical advice and treatment made available to them.”
Coroner Shortland concluded his findings by paying tribute to Halaifonua’s family, which included partner Turea Tohi and the couple’s children Julius and Leila who were 7 and 4 years old, respectively, when their father died.
“I take this opportunity to acknowledge Mr Halaifonua’s family for their patience and extend my aroha and condolences to them.”