Former All Blacks captain and Blues assistant coach Tana Umaga isn’t staking a claim on the Moana Pasifika coaching job, but he won’t rule it out either.
Umaga will mentor the Pacific side, which was unveiled this morning, in their clash against the Maori All Blacks on December 5 in Hamilton.
The same side are set to join the new-look Super Rugby competition in 2022 that involves 12 teams spread across New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific.
Umaga has one year remaining on his current contract with the Blues which will free him up for a potential role elsewhere the year after, should he pursue it.
He told Stuff he is happy at the Blues, but doesn’t know what the future holds.
“I know that with this kind of opportunity [at Moana Pasifika] in 2022, there’s going to be some great coaches that will put their hands up,” he says.
“It will definitely be something to be part of, but I have to say that I’m very happy with where I am at the Blues.
“I know it [Moana Pasifika] will be in good hands. [But] if it’s there and the timing is good you never know what will happen.”
The Auckland franchise will, likely, be strong-willed on keeping Umaga in the fold beyond next year. The 47-year-old’s time with them has been for the most part fruitful.
After some turbulent early years filtered with promising moments, the team showed signs of improvement in 2019 breaking winless droughts against New Zealand sides, before emerging as a legitimate contender in Super Rugby in 2020.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 24, 2020
They finished second on the Super Rugby Aotearoa ladder behind the Crusaders, and are set to give the southerners another run for their money in 2021.
“We’re just starting to see the fruits of some hard labour from the players and some hard-working people at the club that have stuck with it,” Umaga says.
“Our boys are maturing and you can see now that we’re creating some All Blacks and we’ve got a great coaching staff here.
“We’d like to try and take it another step forward and get to the final next year.”
Umaga’s head coaching career began with Toulon in 2008, before moving onto Counties Manukau as an assistant and then head coach. During his time with the Steelers he oversaw their promotion in to the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.
His tenure with the Blues began in 2016.
For the meantime, Umaga’s focus will move to the cohort of Pasifika talents he will need to bring together to take down the Maori All Blacks.
The team is filled with Super Ruby and Mitre 10 Cup talent, including Josh Ioane, Vince Aso, Stephen Perofeta, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Sione Mafileo and Folau Fakatava.
“We have got a few young guys who are knocking on that All Blacks door, so there’s still that opportunity,” Umaga said.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2020
“For us they were just players that you couldn’t leave out.
“Marino [Mikaele-Tu’u], Folau Fakatava, Sione Mafileo in terms of what he has done with that North Harbour pack, Leicester Fainga’anuku…young men who still have [All Blacks} aspirations I’m sure.
“And yet from our point of view they were some of the form players in the competition.
“I had to play against Sitiveni [Sivivatu] and Sione [Lauaki] before they became All Blacks and they made it hard work for us on that night [in 2004] and I remember that clearly.”
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