Rugby: Does Tana Umaga Still Have What It Takes To Be An All Black?

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIMarch 16, 2011

Tana Umaga is back and looking much like the Tana of old.
Tana Umaga is back and looking much like the Tana of old.Phil Walter/Getty Images

It's now been six years since Tana Umaga pulled off the All Black jersey for the last time after captaining New Zealand to a famous Grand Slam win. Since then he's been to Europe, adopted a 'player-coach' role and come back a more experienced and knowledgeable man.

When it was announced that he would play for Counties-Manakau in the ITM Cup last year, many expected him to be slow, washed up and unable to still play at that level.

But the move turned out to be a master-stroke for Counties. Not only did he have a huge influence on the younger players, he showed he was still a reasonable player and was an integral part in their gameplan.

He was then selected by the Chiefs to play in the 2011 Super Rugby competition. Again, his ability to still play at such a level was questioned. But his will to stay "forever young" seems to have shone through once more and he has played some outstanding rugby.

The question many people are asking now is, does Tana Umaga still have what it takes to be an All Black?

At first this may seem like a stupid question. Of course he doesn't, you might say. He's 37 years old, a shadow of his former self.

 Yes, that's true. But isn't that what everyone said about his return to the ITM Cup? Or his return to Super Rugby?

In the past few weeks, he has shown that he still has speed, the ability to read a game and he's still a brick wall in defence.

Indeed, he has looked much like the Tana of old. To go with this, he now has a real mana that younger players respect and his influence on them is huge.

Is this good enough to get him an All Black jersey though?

Probably not. Not because he hasn't been playing well, but because he has arguably the four best midfielders in the world ahead of him.

These four men are, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith and Robbie Fruean. Each of these men offer a different skill set and all have the X-Factor, the one thing that seems to have gone from Umaga's game since he has left. 

Nonu and Fruean are both dynamic runners and will prove a handful for any defence. Conrad Smith is arguably the best all-around back in the world, with his ability to put his wingers in outside him, take the defence on himself and his uncanny knack of not missing tackles. Williams, meanwhile, is New Zealand rugby's new big signing and despite being slightly overrated, seems likely to pick up one of the spots in the All Blacks World Cup squad.

As good as Umaga has been, he hasn't really offered a lot in the way of unpredictability like the four men above can. He rarely makes a mistake, but his game is a lot less expansive these days, which doesn't fit the All Blacks style of play.

In saying this, though, it would be foolish to expect that Umaga won't still be involved in the All Blacks campaign.

The All Black coaches will no doubt look to use him to provide advice and share his experience with the younger players in the same way he did with Counties-Manakau last year. His respect amongst the rugby community of New Zealand is enormous and the All Blacks should look to use this to their advantage. He has a large influence over young players and may be able to deliver the words of wisdom to help them to glory come October.

At this stage, it looks as though that will be as close as Umaga will get to this year's Rugby World Cup.

But you never know. An injury to one of Nonu, Williams, Fruean or Smith will create an opening and by the way he's been playing, it would be hard to deny the spot to the man best known as Tana.