AUCKLAND — Tana Umaga was not in the mood for reminiscing on the 2005 British & Irish Lions tour as he shut down any talk of the infamous tackle from 12 years ago, instead turning the attention on his 2017 Blues side and urged them to make the most of their match against the tourists on Wednesday.
Umaga will seemingly forever be associated with the tip-tackle that ended Brian O’Driscoll’s tour back in 2005 within the first minute of the opening Test. But now in his role as Blues director of rugby, Umaga sidestepped any invitation on Monday to look back at the 2005 tour as he named the team for Wednesday’s match against the Lions at Eden Park.
All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams has been been given a chance to test his injured knee after being named in the Blues team to face the British and Irish Lions on Wednesday.
“That was 12 years ago, if people can’t put it behind them I suppose they never will,” said Umaga. “It’s not about that time now. It’s about this group now and against the Lions and hopefully the memories they make that are positive ones – and we just move on from that.”
Their focus was introspective having arrived back from Samoa at the weekend after playing the Reds in Apia on Friday. Some of their star names sat out that match, but Wednesday’s team features eight All Blacks though they are waiting on the fitness of Sonny Bill Williams who is nursing a knee injury.
Tana Umaga Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images via Getty Images
For those picked, it could be a once-in-a-career opportunity to face the Lions, and Umaga has urged them to grasp the chance on Wednesday.
“It’s a great opportunity and for our guys to be involved in something pretty special,” said Umaga. “Not all players who play this game get to face the British and Irish Lions. Being such a high profile game, our players will play in front of their biggest crowd ever at home.
“Everyone wants to know who you are, the scrutiny afterwards, if you play well you get remembered, and if you don’t play well that’s remembered too. There are things going on before games that have never happened before.
“But the furore that comes with the Lions, it’s great – but then it’s how do we handle that? We’ve talked about those things, it’s about guys reacting and putting that all into practice.”
The Blues hand fly-half Stephen Perofeta his starting debut and Umaga anticipates a better performance from the Lions after they struggled to a 13-7 win over the NZ Provincial Barbarians in their opener.
“There’s big expectation for them but we’ve got big expectation on ourselves too,” Umaga said. “They will want a more polished performance but we just have to keep the pressure on them.
“We’ve talked about the intensity and the backlash that’s likely to come as they aren’t happy with their performance so far. But we’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves. We’ve got to be ready to match it, if not better it.”
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