Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tana Umaga tells it like it is

Sports autobiographies, and rugby versions especially, come and go at a great rate of knots in New Zealand but one that has made its mark is that of Tana Umaga, the recently-retired All Blacks captain.

Tana Umaga, Up Close, attracted a deal of post-release publicity for his disclosures on specific aspects of his career.

But it would be a great shame if this effort, written by Paul Thomas, was to escape the attention of those with an ounce of care about the game in New Zealand.

Having read the book, it is no surprise that those at the head of the game have not reacted as quickly as in the past over the failure of the All Blacks at the World Cup.

Umaga was not especially enamoured of the style of coaching contender Robbie Deans, who was tied up with the John Mitchell coaching era which ended in the 20003 World Cup disappointments.

Umaga said that it was tough at the time because players didn't know where they stood with the coaches.

"Despite being a senior player, I got no feedback at all - just, 'No, you're not in this week.' That was pretty typical of the Mitchell/Deans man-management style, which wasn't what I was used to," he said.

Being a non-Crusader also made life difficult in that Crusader dominated era.

"Mitchell and Deans had a core group of players whom they valued and listened to, and it didn't include me," he said.

Umaga's attitude was just to play harder and prove they needed him, which is pretty much the way he approached most aspects of his career.

But he had no sympathy for the pair when they lost their places after the 2003 World Cup.

"I didn't feel sorry for them because I remembered the contemptuous way they cast aside experienced and valuable players. I'm a big believer in karma and that was certainly a case of what goes around, comes around," he said.

Umaga also left no doubts about his feelings with the coaching panel of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith.

Their set-up was the best he had come across, he said.

Umaga said he supported the concept of conditioning.

"We needed to be innovative because the way we've gone about it for the last four World Cups hasn't worked, but, for whatever reason, the rationale for the rotation system and the conditioning programme hasn't been accepted by some critics.

"Criticism is one thing, but some people seem to be itching for the opportunity to say, 'I told you so', which is a sad indictment," he said.

Umaga was also strong on the point that the transition from Super 14 to All Blacks is tough on players, especially mentally.

While his book was produced before this year's World Cup debacle the points he makes about the state of the game are interesting and concisely put.

Adding lustre to his story is the Samoan connection and its place in the New Zealand game. It is a healthy reminder of the changing face of sport in this country.

Umaga may be off coaching in France but it is very difficult to imagine that his connection with top level rugby in New Zealand is finishing. A coaching career is not beyond the realms of possibility and if it proves half as interesting as his book then All Blacks rugby will still have plenty to offer.

Tana Umaga - Up Close with Paul Thomas. Hodder Moa. Price $49.99

1 comment:

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