Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tana Umaga's Retirement

Tana Umaga, captain of the All Blacks and one of the good guys of the world rugby announces his retirement yesterday after years of sterling service in the black jersey. This is one player which I find impossible not to like. His exemplary attitude on and off the field was well documented. He once won a fairplay award after coming to the aid of injured Colin Charvis, the Welsh skipper in one of their many bruising encounters. The fact that he quits the international stage while still at his peak to spend more time for his family sums up the kind of man he is. The game has truly lost one of its great players.

(This report was first published in espnstar.com)

Skipper Umaga announces retirement from All Blacks

By David Brooks

WELLINGTON, (AFP) - New Zealand captain Tana Umaga drew the curtain on a glittering international rugby career Tuesday, announcing his retirement from playing for his country to spend more time with his family.

Umaga, 32, played 74 Tests for the All Blacks and 21 as captain since taking over from Reuben Thorne in 2004. Renowned for his crunching tackling and strong running, he played his first 18 Tests on the wing before moving to outside centre and inside centre, scoring 36 Test tries.

"I want to spend more time with my family, and I just believe I sacrificed a lot of time with my family to wear the black jersey," he told a press conference. "I did that willingly but now it's time for me to sacrifice something and give it back to my family."

All Black coach Graham Henry said he was sad and disappointed by the decision of his dreadlocked skipper but agreed with his reasons. "I think its a reflection on Tana's strength as a person and development as a person that he's got his priorities right," Henry said. "This day is a special day I think. This is one of the great All Blacks and he's retiring from the game. He was great as a player, he was very brave, led from the front, a fine defender, a huge determination to win, one of the great All Black captains."

Umaga was born near Wellington of Samoan parents and was the first player of Pacific Island descent to lead the All Blacks.
His final season was an exceptional one for the All Blacks, who swept the Lions 3-0, won the Tri-Nations competition, and pulled off a Grand Slam win over Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland.

Tuesday's announcement ended months of speculation following press reports late last year that Umaga would be playing his last match against Scotland. He first broached the possibility of retirement with Henry in June last year but the coach persuaded him the prospect of the Grand Slam -- only the All Blacks' second in a century -- was too good to miss.
He told his fellow players after the Scotland Test he had played his last match in the black jersey but asked them to keep quiet so he could tell his family on his return to New Zealand.
He will continue to play for the Wellington Hurricanes in the Super 14 competition and for his Wellington provincial side until his contract expires in 2007.
His final year was marred by a controversial tackle on Brian O'Driscoll in the first minute of the first Lions test last year, which put the Irishman out of the rest of the tour. But Umaga was otherwise admired as one of the game's hardest but fairest players.
Despite speculation in the British press, he said he had no plans to take up a lucrative overseas contract as many other New Zealand players have done. "I don't fancy going away and leaving my extended family and a great environment to bring up my children," he said.

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