Kelly Meafua, a Samoan rugby star, has died after falling from a bridge in France following his team’s final game of the season.
French rugby club US Montauban confirmed the 32-year-old back-row forward had not survived the fall into the river Tarn in the early hours of Saturday morning, despite the efforts of a teammate to save him.
In a statement shared on its website, the club expressed its pain and shock at Meafua’s sudden death hours after his team’s 48-40 victory over Narbonne in the country’s second-tier league.
The club said Meafua’s Montauban teammate tried to resuscitate and save him but had to be rescued by firefighters himself. He was hospitalized with hypothermia and discharged the following day.
“All the USM Sapiac club are shocked by this tragedy, and all thoughts are with his wife, his children, his teammates, and more generally, all the loving supporters of the club,” the statement continued.
The message, translated from French, also paid tribute to Meafua as a player “appreciated by all, his cheerfulness was communicative and radiant.”
“Today we have lost a player, a friend, a brother,” it added of the former Samoan Sevens star.
Jean-Baptiste Fourcade, a spokesman for US Montauban, told CNN on Monday that the Montauban prosecutor has opened an investigation into Meafua’s death, adding that officials are looking at it as a “tragedy” and not “a bad ending to a party.”
According to the Guardian, Meafu moved to New Zealand as a teenager. He enjoyed stints with the Otahuhu under-21s and Auckland Sevens, before moving to Sydney to play for West Harbour and the Greater Sydney Rams.
After moving to France in 2015, the Guardian reported, Meafu played for French second-division teams Béziers and Narbonne.