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Robust family man and rugby coach Willie Leota has passed away aged 46

Willie Leota has passed away. Photo supplied. 

  • By Adam Julian

Robust family man and rugby coach Willie Leota has passed away aged 46.

There was a considerable shock in the Wellington rugby community when the Western Suburbs stalwart and leading First XV coach was lost on July 8, 2024.

Willie was reserved when discussing his personal life, but he became ‘really’ well-known in capital rugby circles in 1994.

For three consecutive years, Willie was selected in the top Wellington Secondary Schools age group teams.

Willie anchored the scrum for the historic 1995 and 1996 St Patrick’s College, Wellington, First XV’s.

‘Town’ won the 1995 Wellington Premiership and swept their annual traditional fixtures in 1996 to achieve a rare ‘Grand Slam.’ In that meteoric 96 season, Town won 20 of 26 games, secured local bragging rights, and set an oversized Year 11 Jerry Collins on the pathway to stardom.

Town wasn’t close to replicating that success until 2015. Glenn Donaldson coached two decades apart and was rocked by Willie’s passing.

“Willie was a no-nonsense player and didn’t suffer fools. He was a great brother to all his teammates,” Donaldson said.

“In later years Willie was an excellent coach. We had some fierce battles against each other. Willie has given back to the college and is held in high regard. The world has lost a great man. Sectare Fidem.”

The 1998 Jubilee Cup final is the most lopsided ever. With Willie to the fore, Western Suburbs thrashed Tawa 53-21. Even Tawa’s gun coach Chris Boyd, the Hurricanes only Super Rugby winner, had no answer for the Roosters onslaught that day.

Willie became a Wests captain, coach, stalwart and rearguard at Ian Galloway Park until it was no longer feasible for someone of his stature to remain.

The Wests Roosters side of 1998. Willie Leota third row in the centre.

Willie played first-class rugby for Marlborough, Wairarapa Bush and trialled for the New Zealand Colts and Samoa. His twin brother Malaga Leota played for Wellington. In 2000 Malaga appeared in test victories for Samoa against Fiji (31-17) and Canada (41-22) in Apia.

With close mate Sam Rasch, Willie presided over the Scots College First XV from 2016 to 2021.

The polarising Presbyterians won 51 out of 62 games in Wellington securing outright Premiership honours in 2019 and 2020.

Paperwork wasn’t a forte, but occasional wackiness was. Sione Halalilo played on the wing for Scots in their tense 24-21 win over St Patrick’s College, Silverstream in the 2020 final.

A bona fide loose forward, Halalilo helped the Wellington Lions win the 2022 NPC Premiership and Ories capture the 2023 Jubilee Cup.

Scots recovered from a 19-0 deficit in the 2021 decider against Stream to share the title. But when ahead 36-24, Scots mauled 50 metres and somehow conceded a penalty for a double movement.

It was too much for Willie. He went home to Town.

Town was below par in May, overcome 43-10 by Wellington College. They’d be lucky to make the Premiership four, some suggested.

Six successive wins later, including a 44-7 drubbing of Scots, there now exists genuine hope that Town can emulate their steely mentor and make a name for themselves.

A rock-solid employee of ANZ, Willie is survived by his wife Francis and four children, Moana, Molly, Billie, and Solomon.

The St Pat’s Town First XV and the MSP Colts after their annual pre-season match earlier this year.

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