Tana Umaga
Tana Umaga
Full name Jonathan Falefasa Umaga
Date of birth 1973-05-27
Place of birth Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Height 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Weight 102 kg (224 lb)
Nickname T
Rugby union career
Position Centre, wing
Amateur clubs
1992- Petone
correct as of 2006-2-06.
Professional clubs Caps (points)
2006-2007 RC Toulonnais 7 (10)
correct as of 8 February 2007.
Provincial/State sides    
1994- Wellington 96 (260)
correct as of 2007-02-06.
Super Rugby    
1996-2007 Hurricanes 122 (245)
correct as of 2007-05-11.
National team(s)    
All Blacks 79 (185)
correct as of 2007-02-06.
Other Information
School  attended Parkway College (now Wainuiomata High School)

Jonathan Falefasa "Tana" Umaga, born May 27 1973 in Lower Hutt, New Zealand) is a New Zealand rugby union footballer and former captain of the national team, the All Blacks. He has played for the Hurricanes since the Super 12's inception in 1996 and took over the captaincy in 2003. Graham Henry named him as All Blacks captain in 2004; under his leadership the All Blacks won 19 of their 21 games including the clean sweep of the British & Irish Lions and the Grand Slam in 2005. At the end of 2005, after 74 Test caps (where he scored 36 tries), Umaga retired from international rugby.[1] Umaga will play four games for Wellington in the Air New Zealand Cup, in order to notch up 100 matches for the province, before taking up the position of coach at Toulon.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Tana Umaga was born in Lower Hutt to Samoan immigrant did umaga die?parents, and grew up playing Rugby League (commonly referred to in New Zealand as League).[3] In League he rose through the ranks by making the Wellington U-16 and U-17 sides, and was eventually named in the Junior Kiwi side of 1991.[4][5] That same year he signed with the Newcastle Knights but within three weeks was back on the plane to New Zealand because of homesickness.[6] In 1993 Tana's brother Mike, who played rugby union for Manu Samoa, persuaded him to take up rugby union. The brothers met in a Test match in 1999 during which Tana Umaga scored two tries (the All Blacks won 71-13).[1]

Rugby union careerEdit

Emerging talent: 1994 to 1999Edit

Tana Umaga began playing for the Wellington Lions in 1994 and quickly became a fixture in the starting lineup alongside his brother who also played wing. With his natural pace, Tana managed to outscore any other player within the team for three successive years,[7] and in 1996 made the cut for the original Hurricanes squad. His great form was beginning to threaten incumbent All Black wingers Jonah Lomu and Jeff Wilson.

Tana's second year in the Hurricanes jumper was to be his best yet, he scored a New Zealand record 12 tries[8] (now broken by Rico Gear)[9] and earned his first call up to the national team at the expense of Jonah Lomu who had fallen ill. It was an honour he had been striving to achieve.

Despite scoring a try, Umaga's debut would not be remembered for his heroics and the beginning of an era, but the loss of one of New Zealand rugby's greatest ever players, Michael Jones.

With the arrival of Jonah Lomu back on the All Black scene, coupled with a loss of confidence and subsequently a drop in form, Umaga would not pull on the "jersey" again until the '99 season. A year dreaded by All Black fans. Regular outside-backs Lomu, Wilson and Cullen were blocking Tana's reentry into the starting lineup, so 1996-99 All Black coach John Hart devised a way in which all the players could turn out in one game; by moving pivotal Fullback Christian Cullen into the midfield. It would turn out to be a dreadful decision by the All Black management and is considered the main reason for the downfall of the team at the gut-wrenching 1999 Rugby World Cup.[10][11]

All Black redemption: 2000 and 2001Edit

With a confident new coach in Wayne Smith, the All Blacks of the new millennium wanted to forget their World cup woes and reclaim the pride that was once instilled in the black jersey. Tana Umaga was one of several players wishing to make a step up in their careers, his goal was to become the regular centre in the All Black lineup. Worries about the shape of the team were swept aside when the team absolutely smashed Tonga 102-0, in a game where debutantes Troy Flavell and Doug Howlett starred.

The first Bledisloe Cup match in 2000 would go down as arguably the greatest game of all time, indeed it was dubbed "the game played in heaven".[12] He signed a new four year contract with the NZRU, and when Alama Ieremia took up a contract in Japan Tana Umaga decided to shift his focus to centre, despite scoring 9 tries in just 7 tests on the wing that year.[12]

Having only played one match at there for the Hurricanes it was a gamble for the All Black coaches to slot Tana into the midfield against France, the team that thumped the All Blacks in the semi-final of the World cup the year previous. Their faith in his performing was rewarded as Umaga played strongly in a victory that reclaimed a little pride in the team after the devastating loss the year prior.

The 2000 season would go down as one of Umaga's best; he became part of the Super 12's most potent outside backs core along with Hurricanes teammates Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen, following through his great form to the Autumn internationals and finally making the successful transition to the coveted All Black centre role. To top it all off Umaga was awarded the Kelvin Tremain Memorial Trophy, for New Zealand rugby player of the year.

While the Smith era introduced a number of new players into the New Zealand team, they could not reclaim the Tri-Nations or Bledisloe Cup in either 2000 or 2001 against an Australian team coming off the back of a great decade in which they secured two World Cup titles. This inability to do so led to his sacking and the hiring of former All Black mid-week player and successful Chiefs coach John Mitchell.

Uneasy times: 2002 and 2003Edit

The move closer to the scrum wasn't to everyone's liking, several well-known figures in New Zealand rugby went public with their dislike of the decision.[13] They pointed to his move closer to the scrum as evidence of his loss of pace. Despite these claims Umaga steadily put in good performances, this led to his first leadership role, as captain of the Wellington Lions, he took another step up when named vice-captain under Anton Oliver in John Mitchell's first squad.[14]

Including Tana Umaga into any All Black teams of the past had never been an issue, he was simply too good to pass up. John Mitchell had other ideas, he and assistant coach Robbie Deans favoured Crusader Mark Robinson in the midfield and they made no secrets about it. The squad to play against Italy and Ireland as well as compete in the Tri-Nations did not feature Umaga's name. And despite news reports about him carrying a knee injury, on the day when the All Blacks were to take on Italy, Umaga played for his club Petone[15] indicating he was fit enough to play.

His omission from the squad shocked the nation and just to rub salt into the wound Umaga, along with Taine Randell the All Blacks 1999 world cup captain who was also dropped from the team, were told to play for a New Zealand Barbarians outfit against the New Zealand Maori. Randell himself was Maori and did not wish to play against them, and Umaga was placed on the wing a position he had clearly stated he didn't want to play again.[16] Tana played well enough to receive a call-up to the national team to play Fiji, but injured his knee mid game. Tana told the coaches he was fit for selection for the Blediloe match tie against Australia but was again snubbed, Daryl Gibson taking the spot on the bench. Umaga again turned out for Petone.

Umaga came off the bench against South Africa to rousing applause at his home ground Westpac Stadium. Tana would go on to make the Tri-Nations XV; a team based on Zurich world player rankings[17] and was considered a good choice by many to take over the captaincy on the end of year tour because regular captain Reuben Thorne had sustained a season ending injury. It was not to be, Taine Randell was chosen instead.[18]

With the omission of Gordon Slater the 2002 captain, new Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper saw Umaga's potential as captain with the Lions and called upon him to lead the team into the future.[19] The Hurricanes team of 2003 finally shed the inconsistent tag that had plagued them since the tournaments inception.[20] They made the semi-finals for just the second time in their history after winning a franchise record seven times in a row,[21] all riding on the back of the strong leadership Tana Umaga provided. His form was recognised and he was rewarded with a spot in the All Blacks, gaining the title of vice-captain under Reuben Thorne who would lead the team to the World Cup.

In a test match against Wales on June 21, 2003, Welsh captain Colin Charvis was knocked out in a tackle from All Blacks forward Jerry Collins. Umaga stopped playing despite his team being in an attacking position; to check that Charvis had not swallowed his mouthguard. He placed him in the recovery position and for this act, the Council of the International Fair Play Committee awarded Umaga the International Pierre de Coubertin Trophy. A prestigious award for outstanding sportsmanship (named for Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games),[22] the first New Zealander ever to receive the award.[23] The Welsh Rugby Union also presented him with a figurine to honour the display of sportsmanship.

The All Blacks defeated the Springboks 52-16 and the Wallabies 50-21 in consecutive weeks to illustrate how much promise the years side possessed. What made these feats even more impressive is the fact that both matches were played away from home. When the All Blacks arrived in the country for the final two matches of the competition, expectations were high. The New Zealand people wanted to see their team perform at the same level as they had in recent weeks. Both matches went down to the wire and Tana showed how important he was to the All Blacks setup as not only was he a strong attacking force, he displayed ferocious defense and the ability work like a fourth loose-forward in the breakdown. A technique he would later develop into becoming the most valuable asset he provided to the team. New Zealand won both matches and in doing so won not only the Tri-Nations title, but the Bledisloe Cup a prize contested between the All Blacks and their traditional rivals Australia. The first time the All Blacks had won it since 1997. The inspiring play displayed by the team had them tagged as early favourites to win the years World Cup along with eventual winners England.

The opening match of the tournament was to be the All Black greats last Rugby World Cup appearance. All Blacks coach John Mitchell decided to put the best possible XV against the lowly Italy side. This was following a trend set by English coach Clive Woodward. Many other top-ranked sides also opted to show their full wares in the opening matches. This was a mistake on the All Blacks part. In an attempted back line move, Umaga collided with star Five-Eighth Carlos Spencer. Spencer came out unhurt but unfortunately Umaga suffered a damaged posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was forced to leave the field. Tana would not be seen for the rest of the tournament despite being declared fit to play in the semi-final by then All Blacks doctor John Mayhew.[24] Leon MacDonald the regular backup Fullback, was preferred in the centre spot despite only having one solid performance there. The All Blacks would lose the game 22-10 and again the country felt the agonising pain of an early exit from the tournament. Wallaby captain George Gregan summed it up for the depleted All Blacks, chanting "four more years" as the final seconds ticked away.

The aftermath of the world cup was similar to the last, as coach John Mitchell who had a decent record with the team was told to pack his bags. Only two coaches applied for the position of All Blacks head coach. Mitchell who re-applied and Graham Henry; the former coach of the Blues who was exiled from ever taking the top job after leaving New Zealand shores on a contract with the Wales national team. Henry's experience in New Zealand and overseas, as well as the skill shown in turning around the Welsh team worked in his favour and he secured the job with little public outcry.

All Black captain: 2004 and 2005Edit

Graham Henry's first choice as captain of his team was the battle-hardened Tana Umaga. And after a disappointing Super 12 in which the Hurricanes came 11th, he was selected to replace Reuben Thorne, becoming the first New Zealander of Pacific Island heritage to captain the All Blacks in a test match. The decision to hand Tana the captain role in the All Blacks was widely acknowledged as the best choice for the job.[25] Umaga's captaincy began well, with victory in the first six tests, including two victories against World Cup holders England. One of them a 36-3 win in Dunedin was at that time the heaviest loss ever by a World Cup holding team. The All Blacks of 2004 successfully managed to regain the Bledisloe Cup which they worked so hard to win the year before. Unfortunately, the winning run would come to an end, when the All Blacks lost in both away games against Australia and South Africa, putting the All Blacks out of contention for the 2004 Tri Nations Series.

The end of year tour of 2004 would be remembered for two things; the introduction of Dan Carter in the position of First-Five Eighth and the colossal thrashing of the well fancied French. The 45-6 victory is considered the match that provided the catalyst for the current team's success; players to establish themselves that game included Tony Woodcock, Carl Hayman and to a lesser extent Conrad Smith. The loose-forward combination of Jerry Collins, Rodney So'oialo and Richie McCaw was also first seen in this game.

With the disappointment of the last year's Super 14 performance, Tana and his Hurricanes team wanted retribution. Tana would celebrate his 100th match for the side, joining an elite group of players to reach that milestone. It was fitting that on the day he was to play his 100th match, his team would finally overcome their bogey team, the Blues. It was a special night for the centre, and indeed for the rest of the squad. They would make the semi-final for the second time in three years, but again stumbling in a loss to the overall champion Crusaders.

The 2005 calender year was a demanding year for the All Blacks. The long anticipated British & Irish Lions tour, on top of the Tri-Nations and the opportunity to secure the first Grand Slam (victories away against England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) win since 1978.

Umaga's reputation for sportsmanship was questioned because of an incident in the first Test of the Lions tour to New Zealand on June 25, 2005. In the first minute of the Test, Umaga, along with hooker Keven Mealamu, combined to upend Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll in a controversial post-ruck clean-out. The clean-out resulted in O'Driscoll dislocating his shoulder, necessitating surgery and causing him to miss the rest of the tour. The British and Irish media accused Umaga of foul play, largely disregarding Mealamu, who had initiated the clean-out; O'Driscoll and Lions management characterized the incident as a "deliberate spear tackle".[26] The independent citing commissioner found that neither Umaga nor Mealamu had a case to answer at the time due to inconclusive evidence,[27] but after viewing new amateur footage of the incident, Greg Thomas, communications manager for the sport's governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), described the tackle as "unacceptably dangerous" and stated that IRB was instructing referees to suspend players for three to six months for such offenses.[28] The tackle was labeled as one of 'sports ugliest moments' in an Australian newspaper in 2007. [29]

Umaga played exceptionally during the remainder of the Lions tour and New Zealand's triumphant 2005 Tri-Nations campaign, which included the retention of the Bledisloe Cup. The IRB shortlisted him for their 2005 International Player of the Year award (an honour eventually won by fellow All Black Dan Carter). European commentators have often compared Umaga to the captain of England's world cup winning team, Martin Johnson.

Umaga led the All Blacks to only their second ever Northern Hemisphere Grand Slam. After playing 74 test matches for his country Tana Umaga confirmed his retirement from international rugby at a press conference on January 10, 2006. His main reason for retiring was to spend more time with his family as he had just had another child with his wife Rochelle. Tana Umaga's announcement led to his succession as captain, Richie McCaw. McCaw had been groomed to eventually succeed Umaga before the World Cup,[30] the victorious 2005 campaign provided the perfect send-off for a player who had given his all to New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks.

Closer to home: 2006 and 2007Edit

For the 2006 Super 14 season Umaga handed the Hurricanes captaincy to All Black number 8 Rodney So'oialo in order to focus on his own game, but still helped the Hurricanes reached the semi-finals for the third time in four years. [31] Out drinking after the 2006 Super 14 Final - in which the Hurricanes lost to the Crusaders - Umaga was seen in a bar hitting team mate Chris Masoe with a woman's handbag. The incident was latter dubbed the handbag incident by the media. Umaga replaced the woman's damaged cell phone, and the woman went on to sell her handbag and broken cell phone for NZD23,000.

In the 2006 Queen's Birthday Honours Umaga was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his dedicated service to rugby.[32]

In the months to come he was reported to be on the wish lists of many top European clubs; his former All Black's teammate Andrew Mehrtens was forced to publicly deny rumours that Umaga was a target of his club at the time - Harlequins.[33]

Umaga eventually signed for French club Toulon that had been recently relegated from the Top 14 to Pro D2. His contract allowed him to play the entire 2006 Air New Zealand Cup (ANZ Cup) season for Wellington traveling to France. He ended up playing only seven matches for Toulon as Wellington made the ANZ Cup final. He nonetheless made roughly €350,000 (USD 438,000/GBP 250,000) that Toulon's co-presidents reportedly paid out of their own pockets.[34] The day before playing his first match for Toulon he was awarded the medal of honour of the city of Toulon (médaille d'or de la ville) by Mayor Hubert Falco. On October 29, 2006, Umaga started in his first game three days after arriving in Toulon and lifted his team to a 22-16 victory against Lyon, scoring his team's only (and decisive) try. He commented after the match how the crowd had been fantastic. He was also surprised to see how close to the players the fans were and how noisy the atmosphere was.[35]

Umaga returned to New Zealand at the end of his contract with Toulon following their January 7, 2007 win over Grenoble. When Umaga arrived in Toulon they were ninth in the Pro D2 table; when he left they had risen to third. Toulon won eight of nine matches with Umaga on the roster - the only loss coming when he was out injured.[36]

Umaga played his last season for the Hurricanes in 2007. His last match for them was on May 5, 2007 at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Tana Umaga. Retrieved on 6 February, 2007.
  2. Umaga to Go Out on High. Sportinglife (1 June 2007). Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved on 2007-4-6.
  3. Ferguson, David. "Umaga goes out on a high",, 2006-01-11. Retrieved on 2007-03-07. 
  4. The side also featured future National Rugby League stars Joe Vagana, Ruben Wiki and Gene Ngamu.
  5. Matheson (2006), pg 14.
  6. Matheson (2006), pg 13.
  7. Matheson (2006), pg. 14.
  8. Matheson (2006), pg 17.
  9. One to Watch: Rico Gear. timesonline. Retrieved on 6 February, 2007.
  10. Matheson (2006), pg 27.
  11. Matheson (2006), pg 28.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Matheson (2006), pg 41.
  13. Matheson (2006), pg 45.
  14. Matheson (2006), pg 56.
  15. Matheson (2006), pg 65.
  16. Matheson (2006), pg 66.
  17. Matheson (2006), pg 71.
  18. Taine Randell. Retrieved on 7 February, 2007.
  19. Matheson (2006), pg 74.
  20. Hurricanes ride high in rankings. Retrieved on 21 December, 2006.
  21. Matheson (2006), pg 78.
  22. Sport prizes awarded by UNESCO. Retrieved on 12 March, 2007.
  23. Umaga out to tame Lions. Retrieved on 13 March, 2007.
  24. Matheson (2006), pg 82.
  25. Matheson (2006), pg 88.
  26. Henry defends duo over O'Driscoll. BBC Sport (28 June, 2005). Retrieved on 2006-11-14.
  27. Orlovac, Mark and Jim Stokes (25 October 2005). No action on new O'Driscoll video. BBC Sport. Retrieved on 2006-11-14.
  28. "NZ want O'Driscoll injury laid to rest", Independent Online, October 26 2005. Retrieved on 2006-04-01. 
  29. Sports Ugliest moments. Fairfax Digital, Sydney Morning Herald (8 July, 2007). Retrieved on 8 July 2007.
  30. Matheson (2006), pg 104.
  31. "New Hurricanes Captain",, 2006-01-11. Retrieved on 2007-05-16. 
  32. The Queen's Birthday Honours 2006 on the Governor-General of New Zealand's website
  33. "Mehrtens to take on S African citizenship", The Sunday Star-Times, 2006-01-08. Retrieved on 2006-04-06. 
  34. "Umaga signs with lowly Toulon",, 2006-06-29. Retrieved on 2006-06-29. 
  35. "Umaga déjà en vedette (Umaga stars immediately)",, 2006-06-29. Retrieved on 2006-06-29. (in French) 
  36. "Umaga heads for home",, 2007-01-08. Retrieved on 2007-01-08. 


External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

NAME Umaga, Ionatana Falefasa
SHORT DESCRIPTION New Zealand rugby union footballer, former All Blacks captain
DATE OF BIRTH May 27 1973
PLACE OF BIRTH Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.