Umaga targets Pacific growth as Super Rugby makes Tonga debut

rugby02 May 2024 10:25| © AFP
article image
Tana Umaga @ getty images

All Blacks great Tana Umaga said Thursday he wants to help rugby grow in the Pacific islands ahead of Moana Pasifika's debut in Tonga at the weekend.

The Auckland-based Moana Pasifika, coached by Umaga, will play the Highlanders in Nuku'alofa on Saturday as Super Rugby breaks new ground in Tonga, a year after Samoa hosted its first match.

Former New Zealand captain Umaga, 50, who was born in Wellington to Samoan parents, has named 12 players from Tonga for their team's debut on the Pacific island.

"It's great to be in one of our homelands," Umaga told reporters in Nuku'alofa, "and we want to make sure we put on a good performance".

"I'm passionate about trying to help our Pacific island people progress."

Umaga said he wants to inspire youngsters to become professional rugby players.

"I'm just trying to impart some of my experiences and my knowledge on to these players, so we can perform well for our people," said Umaga, who played 74 tests for the All Blacks.

Moana Pasifika sit ninth in the Super Rugby table after their 24-17 defeat to Fijian Drua in Lautoka last weekend.

Captain Sione Havili Talitui is a Tongan international and has around 20 family and friends coming to the game.

"There are a lot of learnings we’ve taken from the Drua game," the flanker said.

"We did some good things in the second half, in particular in the last 20 minutes but we have to be a lot better this week against the Highlanders."

The Highlanders are one point above Moana Pasifika in the table after beating the bottom side Western Force 7-6 in Dunedin last weekend.