'This time last year I was playing for Yorkshire at Richmond on a Saturday night... it's been a whirlwind year'
“I got added to a WhatsApp group chat by an England member of staff with all the logistics for the upcoming weeks. I thought I was being pranked for a second,” said the 21-year-old Wasps academy graduate about his inclusion in the 34-man Test squad.
“When I found out, I was actually at the house of a girl I’ve been dating, making a stir fry for dinner. I’d just met her mum for the first time and it all just happened in one big moment.
“I was on the phone and she was like: ‘Why aren’t you talking?’ and I just said: ‘I’ve just been added to a group chat!’ I had a look through of who was in it, and I saw Joe Launchbury, Elliot Daly and Jonathan Joseph, and I was like okay this could be something!”
The son of ex-Samoa star Mike and nephew of former All Black Tana, Jacob will now fly out to Portugal on Wednesday for a week’s warm-weather training ahead of England’s tournament opener away to France on February 2.
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Turn the clock back the 15 months and Umaga was lifting the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup trophy with Auckland in New Zealand. He soon returned to England and was loaned out to Yorkshire Carnegie in the Championship to gain even more game-time along with Premiership Rugby Shield duties for the Wasps academy.
Eight of that group – Umaga, Tim Cardall, Owain James, Gabriel Oghre, Will Porter, Callum Sirker, Sam Spink and Tom Willis – all graduated to the first-team set-up last June, and Umaga has thrived, making his Premiership debut against London Irish in October before delivering a man-of-the-match European debut in November versus Agen.
“It [England] is a recognition of how well Jacob has played this season. He’s worked his socks off to improve,” explained Wasps boss Dai Young. “He had a stint in New Zealand which gave him some great experience.
— Jim Hamilton (@jimhamilton4) January 21, 2020
“Playing in the Mitre 10 Cup competition and rubbing shoulders with some quality players gave him a lot of confidence and belief and he’s come back and gone from strength to strength. He’s certainly been a different player this season – he’s got our attacking line moving really well, takes it to the line really well, and makes good decisions. His kicking game is excellent too.”
Umaga, who represented England under-18s and under-20s, admitted the call-up came out of the blue. “It’s a bit surreal. It’s been a crazy 24 hours. I woke up Tuesday morning thinking: ‘Did that actually just happen?’ Everyone’s been congratulating me and it’s been a really nice feeling.
“I called my dad and all I could hear was screaming down the phone from my dad, mum, brother and sister. My mum didn’t believe me at first, she thought I was talking nonsense so I had to call her back and say it was real. It was out the blue. I’d just been getting over the concussion from a fortnight ago and focusing on trying to get back fit for Saturday’s game.
“This time last year I was playing for Yorkshire at Richmond on a Saturday night so to make my Premiership debut, my European debut and now this – it’s been a whirlwind of a year.
“I just want to take in as much as possible. For me, it’s about learning and the opportunity to learn off the likes of Owen Farrell and George Ford – watching them and trying to build and be the best player I can be. Any chance I get, I’ll try and take it.”
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