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Thomas Umaga-Jensen reveals All Blacks dream after horror injury run

By Alex McLeod
Photo: Derek Morrison / www.photosport.nz

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His twin brother became an All Black two years ago, and now Thomas Umaga-Jensen is hoping to follow suit after overcoming a horror injury run.

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Much has been made of Umaga-Jensen’s potential since his arrival at the Highlanders ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season, with head coach Tony Brown describing the 24-year-old midfielder as “a bit of a beast” ahead of last year’s campaign.

However, Umaga-Jensen has been badly let down by an array of injuries since joining the Highlanders. Whether it has been a bad shoulder or a broken arm, he has had more medical appointments and rehabilitation sessions than game time in recent seasons.

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All in all, he has totalled just 12 matches for the Highlanders since his debut against the Melbourne Rebels four years ago, with last week’s Super Rugby Pacific loss to the Crusaders his first 80-minute effort for the franchise since 2019.

By contrast, Peter – Thomas’ fraternal twin – has gone from strength-to-strength for the Hurricanes, impressing to the point that he made his first, and only, test appearance for the All Blacks against the Wallabies in 2020.

Peter’s rise from prodigal prospect to All Blacks international is indicative of the potential that Thomas possesses, but the latter has struggled to reach those heights due to his injury woes.

Those issues finally look to be behind him, though, as he emerged from pre-season unscathed and impressed off the bench against the Chiefs in the Highlanders’ season-opener to earn a starting role against the Crusaders last Friday.

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The Highlanders failed to pick up a single competition point from either of those matches, but any future successes they have this season may hinge on the fitness of Umaga-Jensen.

Brown expects big things from Umaga-Jensen, who he said, shortly after the Crusaders match, has the ability to form a “world-class” combination with new midfield partner and two-test Tongan international Fetuli Paea.

If he can realise his lofty potential, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question to suggest that Thomas could join Peter in becoming an All Black, a feat of which the former revealed on Tuesday is something he hopes to achieve.

“It’s definitely a goal in my career,” Umaga-Jensen said about playing for the All Blacks while remaining cautious about not getting too ahead of himself.

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“But, for me, it’s just more kind of focusing on the team now, with the Highlanders, trying to get us on the scoreboard, I guess, in terms of points and stuff.

“It’s kind of hard to answer that question with the All Blacks because my real goal was just to get back into rugby and try to be able to play.

“Just being able to play now is just great, like getting the minutes I’ve been given has been good, so kind of grateful for that, and trying not to look too long-term, because then I kind of get lost in the present.”

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At present, Umaga-Jensen is preparing to face the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday, a fixture that may well pit him against his brother.

Only once have Thomas and Peter come up against each other in the Super Rugby arena, when they both made brief cameos off the bench as the Hurricanes defeated the Highlanders in Dunedin during last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa.

This time round, Thomas is hopeful of more action against Peter, although the latter has a challenge on his hands if he is to break into his side’s starting lineup following the standout efforts of Julian Savea and Bailyn Sullivan against the Blues on Saturday.

“We came across each other last year when they came down and played us in Dunedin, but that was very short,” Thomas said of squaring off against Peter.

“I think he only got nine minutes, but I got on earlier before him, so I haven’t really, actually ran at him, or he’s tackled me or I’ve tackled him. Hopefully there’s an opportunity for that on the weekend.”

Even if he doesn’t get the chance to go head-to-head with his brother, Umaga-Jensen said he would relish the chance to “mash” Savea, who appears to be the frontrunner for the No 12 jersey at the Hurricanes after his positional switch from the wing.

“It’s great. I get to play against some old teammates, in terms of Wellington. Julian Savea, the Savea brothers, they’re awesome in Super Rugby, so just to be able to play against them is quite cool, especially against my brother.

“It’s just another thing to tick off. They are a great challenge, but it’s just another great challenge to be able to mash them up, so it’s exciting. Can’t shy away from the contact, so can’t wait to hopefully run against him more than he runs against me.”

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Highlanders assistant coach Riki Flutey is similarly hopeful that Umaga-Jensen will able to unleash his powerful frame on the Hurricanes to full effect given his side have only scored two tries in as many games.

“I think, for us, it’s controlling our possession when we do have it, and making the most of it,” Flutey said.

“As I’ve mentioned, we’re creating opportunities, but just the little, not-far-away opportunities that we’re missing in our game, so it’s a big focus for us in our training to just nail the small things.

“Even when it’s a two-on-one, three-on-two, we’ve got to be able to finish, particularly at this level, because you only get three or four moments or opportunities to score.”

With Umaga-Jensen on deck, Flutey is optimistic about his side’s chances of executing the opportunities afforded to them.

“Thomas is, as you know, he’s an absolute weapon. He’s an attacking threat, and also very dominant in his defence as well,” Flutey said.

“As Thomas just mentioned there, the more game time he gets, the more involvements he’ll get, the more touches he’ll get, and the more threatening he’ll become to any defence, so he’s tracking really well at the moment.

“The awesome thing is, with Thomas’ awareness, there’s still massive area for growth in his game and where it’s going to get to.”

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