After putting pen to paper to take over as head coach of Moana Pasifika, former All Black Tana Umaga wants to give back to his Samoan heritage.
As first revealed by Newshub last week, 50-year-old Umaga has taken charge of Super Rugby’s newcomers, signing a three-year deal to replace Aaron Mauger at the helm of Moana Pasifika.
While there will be challenges, with Moana Pasifika having won only three games in two seasons, Umaga doesn’t shy away from the responsibility he feels.
When asked about his ability to give back not only his Samoan heritage, but also that of Tonga and the Pacific, Umaga made no bones of his intentions in his new role.
“It’s exactly as you say,” Umaga said.
“Our ability to give back as our parents, grandparents and ancestors have done, have always done what’s best for their families – not just themselves – to develop better pathways for their families and those that come after them.
“That’s no different. It’s a blessing to be in this position, it comes with obvious responsibility that I’m most aware of.
“But it’s something that I feel it’s probably my time to do. Even being with Manu Samoa and in Samoa, I feel even more so I’m doing the right thing at the right time.
“Not just for myself, but for our people.”
However, regardless of who their coach is, Moana Pasifika have a challenge no other Super Rugby side – bar perhaps Fijian Drua – face.
Being based in New Zealand, Moana Pasifika have made the most of recruiting talent that has otherwise fallen through the cracks for the five Kiwi sides.
After struggling to make an impact with the likes of the Blues and the Chiefs, Levi Aumua proved to be a genuine star at Moana Pasifika, earning his way into the All Blacks XV in 2022.
That success, though, came at a price.
Next year, Aumua has traded Moana Pasifika for the Crusaders, signing on to replace France-bound Jack Goodhue, and committing his future to New Zealand Rugby, rather than Samoa.
And with no shortage of talent in the Pacific Islands, Umaga outlines its Moana Pasifika’s role to make sure players yet to commit their international futures to a test nation do so with the best intentions.
“Is it a concern? It’s one of the risks when you sign players that haven’t been capped,” he said.
“We need to, as Moana, make sure we give them something they feel connected to, that they want to go on and represent the country of their birth, or their parents or grandparents’ birth.
“The lure of other international teams – like the All Blacks – there’s a bit of work for us to do there.
“We can’t discount how much that means to them. I can’t look at my own path through rugby, and say that it’s not a good one.
“If they decide to go on a different journey, as always we respect that, respect their decision. We’ll always support that, because they’re Pacific Islanders. But we know their time in Moana was the stepping stone for where they want to get to in their life,” he said.