Tana Umaga ready to step up to next level

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2011
Tana Umaga
Photosport
TANA UMAGA: "We have always been known as a team of promising players and not so much as a promising team. That's something I'm aware of and the players are well aware of."

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Tana Umaga has no plans to play first class rugby now that he has secured a head coaching role at Counties-Manukau.

The 38-year-old takes over from Milton Haig after two years as an assistant that saw him play for the province in the ITM Cup and also return to the Super Rugby scene with the Chiefs this year.

He did not look out of place but a ruptured Achilles tendon in June brought a premature end to his campaign and it seems he's reluctant to lace his boots for action again at ITM Cup level.

"At this stage, no," Umaga said when asked if he would play.

"I'm just going to concentrate on coaching. That's probably going to be the sole focus for me at the moment, trying to bring players through and help them develop and push them and my team, hopefully, on to bigger things."

After a difficult introduction to coaching with ambitious French club Toulon in 2007, Umaga believes he has served his apprenticeship to take up a head role again.

"I have a lot of experience as a coach now after four or five years.

"I probably went in the deep end in France but it's like anything, you sink or swim, and I think I did a reasonable job with things.

"I learnt a lot and then coming back here and sitting behind someone like Milton Haig, who has great experience and who's been so willing to help me out, was good for me and my learning.

"I think I'm ready to move to the next stage again. I'm looking forward to the challenge really."

Umaga said speculation that he was in line to be part of new All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's management team as a selector was wide of the mark.

"I heard the rumours – there's nothing to that. I haven't heard from Shag in two years really, other than passing by when I go to see the All Blacks.

"I always wanted to be at Counties. My family are happy here and I've seen how much rugby means to this community.

"Once Milton was thinking about going I was pretty keen to take up from where he left off. It was just a matter of going through the whole process."

Umaga knows he faces some challenges. Counties have had their moments in the last two seasons but haven't backed that up with their placings on the table by season's end. "We have always been known as a team of promising players and not so much as a promising team.

"That's something I'm aware of and the players are well aware of. We need to try and step up in a few areas.

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"Hopefully we can get the mindset and attitudes right to fulfil some of that potential."

There's also the desire to get more Counties players into Super Rugby – only loose forward Fritz Lee and fullback Tim Nanai-Williams made the Chiefs for next season, with two others getting jobs via the draft.

"That goes back to poor results and we are mindful of that," Umaga said.

He believed the financial security that came with a Super Rugby contract would help stability in the Counties scene.

"That's what we are looking for because rugby is definitely a career path for a lot of youth in the region.

"We want to follow through and help them achieve that."

AT A GLANCE

Name: Jonathan Ionatona Falefasa (Tana) Umaga
College: Parkway College, Wainuiomata
Age: 38
Test caps: 74
Coaching: Toulon, 2008-09; Counties-Manukau 2010

- Fairfax Media

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