Tana Umaga admits the Maori All Blacks will be very short of preparation time when they take on the British and Irish Lions on next summer’s tour.
The Maori will be the fifth of the Lions ten matches in New Zealand, with the game taking place at Rotorua where a vociferous crowd will support a team that has just completed a short tour that featured a 27-14 loss to Munster and wins over the US Eagles(54-7) and Harlequins. The 26-10 win over Quins was part of the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations and featured an exciting first half of running Maori rugby and a less impressive second 40 when the makeshift home side rose to the occasion.
For Umaga, who captained the All Blacks to a test series whitewash of the 2005 Lions, there will be two chances to knock over Warren Gatland’s men next year as he will be coaching the Blues against the touring team and acting as assistant coach to Colin Cooper for the Maori fixture.
Despite a lack of fixtures and preparation time, Umaga is confident the Maori team will make it difficult for the Lions as their squad features Super rugby contracted players of real talent and pace. However, he told The Rugby Paper:”The tough thing is that now we disperse and don’t come back together until a week before the Lions match. How many of our All Blacks will be available to us for the Lions game is something that head coach Colin Cooper will have discussions with the AB’s about. If we don’t get anyone then we now know a lot more about our guys on this trip and they are battle hardened. The players have got seven months to develop and get better.
“This tour has been so important in terms of developing players and some of them have come away never having been away, playing this kind of opposition and style of rugby.
“For us to develop these players and to give the an understanding of what rugby is like over here, this trip has been great. The boys have learnt a lot going into the Lions match and we used the tour to look at some positional issues, including front row. We want to create some depth so that when it comes around to selection time for the Lions that we have got some options.”
Umaga, who won 74 caps, believes the strong bond between the Maori players will help overcome a lack of game time together to ensure a full blooded contest in Rotorua.
He added: “When you talk about team culture and camaraderie the one thing we have is that the players are all Maori and the culture brings them together and it’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. They all understand who they represent – their family – how far it goes back and who they here they are allingned. That means we don’t have any issues about getting guys together and it does short cirucuit things. Then it comes down to ensuring they have the structures and systems in place.
“They are Super rugby players and so they know how to play the game and our aim is to keep it simple in the short time we have with them.
“Wherever the Lions tour it means so much and is a unqiue experience. Not every player gets to experience that and so it’s exciting to be part of it. It is special back in New Zealand and I am lucky to get two shots at it both as a player against the Lions and as a coach. Let’s hope I can be successful both times. “
As seen in the Rugby Paper