Wellington - Former Samoa rugby captain Peter Fatialofa, who led his team to a win over Wales in one of the game's most stunning upsets, died on Wednesday in his Pacific homeland, officials said.
Reports said Fatialofa suffered a heart attack in the capital Apia and died on his way to hospital. He was 54.
The Samoa Observer newspaper said the nation was in mourning for the pioneering prop, who helped establish Samoa as a force in world rugby.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said Fatialofa, who grew up in Auckland and retained strong ties with the city's rugby community, would be sorely missed.
"Peter was one of those great characters who was genuine, honest and what you saw was what you got," Tew said. "A hard and tough player and leader on the field, Peter had a huge heart for his beloved Samoa."
Fatialofa played 34 Tests for Samoa, captaining the team during their first Rugby World Cup campaign in 1991, when they reached the quarter-finals before going down to Scotland.
Along the way, the islanders' ferocious tackling and adventurous running earned them a 16-13 win over Wales before a stunned crowd at Cardiff Arms Park, in a result described by the BBC as the darkest day in Welsh rugby history.
At the time, Fatialofa's team was playing under the title Western Samoa to avoid confusion with neighbouring American Samoa - prompting one Welsh player to supposedly remark after the game: "Thank God we weren't playing the whole of Samoa!"
The win sparked wild celebrations in Samoa and the team received a rapturous welcome when they returned home.
"They must have thought Jesus was on the plane," Fatialofa later commented.
Current All Black Ma'a Nonu tweeted that Fatialofa had inspired Samoan children, both in New Zealand and the islands, "to fulfil their rugby dreams".
All Black great Bryan Williams, who played alongside Fatialofa in Auckland club rugby, said the player - nicknamed "Fats" - was delighted to have helped his rugby-mad nation gain international recognition.
"He was so proud about that," Williams told the New Zealand Herald. "He just had a huge passion and drive to put Samoan rugby on the map and that's what he's done."
Fatialofa is survived by his wife Anne and eight children.