English World

Column: Umaga takes a step up

THE coaching career of former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga goes up another gear with his recent appointment as coach of the Blues franchise, taking over from John Kirwan.

The 74-cap All Black’s first stint as coach was in 2008/9 with French club Toulon. They finished ninth in the Top 14 in his first year in charge.

Umaga was later made backs coach following the appointment of Philippe Saint-Andre as head coach. He returned to New Zealand after that and was appointed player-coach by Counties Manukau in 2011.

Following the departure of Milton Haig to coach Georgia, Umaga became the provincial team’s head coach in 2012.

In 2013 Counties Manukau managed fourth place in the premiership and last year won eight games and drew one from 13. They missed the playoffs by just two points.

The highlight of Umaga’s time there must be the province’s first victory in the Ranfurly Shield against Hawke’s Bay in 2013.

Umaga’s success rate with the south Auckland side which once had the likes of Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri playing for them is 61 per cent.

The next Super Rugby campaign after this year’s ends in a week’s time will only be early next year but in the meantime Umaga says he still has unfinished business with Counties Manukau in the next provincial championship.

Together with another former All Black Leon McDonald, Umaga was recently an assistant coach to Scott Robertson with the NZ Under-20s team that won the world title in Italy after a lapse of three years.

While Umaga’s appointment is good news to many, rugby in New Zealand was shocked by more sad news coming so soon after the death of All Black star Jerry Collins in a motorcar accident in France.

Norman “Norm” Rangi Berryman, a star with Northland, three-time Super Rugby winner with the Crusaders and one-cap All Black, died in Perth recently, believed to be from a heart attack.

Despite playing only one Test for the All Blacks, and that too off the bench against South Africa in 1998, the accolades from players, coaches and officials prove just how much Berryman meant to them.

Most have described him as an infectious character on and off the field who always had a smile for everyone, even when he played for a losing side.

Berryman was usually the last to leave the field for the dressing room after a game because he was always signing autographs for fans.

His rugby was said to be instinctive, even described as uncoachable at times.

Any environment that limited his freedom to play as he saw fit must have been stressful and that must have been the reason he infamously walked out of an All Blacks training camp under John Hart in 1998 in Auckland to hitchhike his way back to Whangarei 158 kilometres away.

Berryman described Hart as a coach who promoted negativity.

Incidentally Hart will be remembered as the coach who saw the All Blacks through five consecutive Test defeats in 1998, a dubious record that was recorded only once before, in 1949.

But it wasn’t all gloom in New Zealand, with the Under-20s winning the world title for a fifth time and first since 2011 after beating England in the final.

The English were winners in 2013 and 2014.

The Baby Blacks won the first four championships on a trot but came unstuck in 2012 when they lost the final. The following year they finished fourth and last year third.



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