Former All Black captain Tana Umaga is squarely backing New Zealand to win the Rugby World Cup this year.
The 74-Test All Black, who retired in 2005, is assistant coach of the Counties Manukau team, who have been training at the Queenstown Events Centre over the past two days.
“I’m backing NZ to win,” he tells Mountain Scene.
“We’ve got the players, the coaching staff, now we just need the four million [NZ] people behind them and I’m sure most of them will be.”
Umaga says he was impressed by the All Blacks’ showing against the second-string Springboks last Saturday, calling it a “marked improvement” over their performance against Fiji a week earlier.
“I thought Cory Jane coming back into the backline, Ma’a Nonu and Andrew Hore, especially, really stood out – it’s amazing how these guys probably didn’t fire so much in the Hurricanes environment but they’re flourishing in the All Blacks’ environment.”
Umaga recalls playing pre-season games for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders in Queenstown, and coming here for two All Blacks camps.
“I remember this [Events Centre] ground and it was all covered with snow – they had to clear the snow for us to train.”
Umaga is delighted that England, Ireland, Romania and Georgia will have World Cup training camps in Queenstown next month.
“Hopefully they’ll lull themselves into a false sense of security, that they’ll enjoy themselves too much.
“No, it’s a great advertisement for our country because it’s a beautiful spot.
“I hope all the people in NZ go out and support all the teams.
“I think my daughter’s class have adopted Romania, I’ve got to try and find a local game with Romania in Auckland somewhere.”
Umaga – who joined Counties-Manukau as player-coach last year after a stint playing and coaching in France – has hung up his boots this season due to an Achilles injury.
In their latest game in a truncated season, his team lost their Ranfurly Shield challenge to Southland in pouring rain in Invercargill last Friday.
“It rained just prior to kick-off and it was non-stop throughout the game but the weather’s not an excuse,” Umaga says.
“We made too many mistakes and Southland are a side that make you pay.
“They’re very patient – they stick to the basics, stick to their strengths and do it well, so they squeezed us out of the game in the end.”
The team bus to Dunedin tomorrow for their next ITM Cup game against Otago, on Wednesday.
Umaga’s been linked to a possible coaching job back in France, but says he’s “just weighing up my options”.
During the Rugby World Cup he’ll be NZ ambassador for sponsor DHL.
“I just can’t wait [for the World Cup]. You can sense it building, it’s going to be great.”