‘I worry about our game’ – All Blacks legend concerned rugby is losing what makes it ‘unique’

Dylan Coetzee
Maona Pasifika head coach Tana Umaga.

Maona Pasifika head coach Tana Umaga.

Former All Blacks skipper and current Moana Pasifika head coach Tana Umaga has voiced his concerns about the state of the game with low attendances at the centre of his worry.

Crowd attendances have long been a concern for Super Rugby, even at the back end of the era that still included South African teams, and now, in the current iteration of Super Rugby Pacific, the issue remains.

There has been a concerted effort by governing bodies over the last couple of years to improve the game as a spectacle by increasing ball-in-play time through shot clocks and new law variations.

The game as a product

However, Umaga is still worried about how the sport is being looked after and called for the game as a product to be looked into.

“I worry about our game sometimes, how it’s going and obviously the numbers,” he told RNZ.

“I love the game and I want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to keep it, grow it, or somehow bring people back to it because it is a great game.

“We have got to think about the product we are putting out. We want people to come to the games because as we’ve seen, those numbers aren’t as good as they used to be in the old days.”

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Umaga also showed concern for the National Provincial Championship (NPC) in New Zealand and underlined how important it is for the development of players through to Super Rugby and ultimately Test level.

“We need the people in our communities behind it and we have to make sure that we’re going out there and giving them what they want,” he said.

“We have just got to make sure that we keep the essence of what rugby is about, that’s our point of difference. That’s what makes us unique, and we don’t want to lose that. We don’t want to be following anyone else, we need to be innovative about what we do and trying to understand what people want so that we can give it to them.”

Australian improvement

While the former centre did voice his concerns, he also praised the increased competitiveness of Super Rugby Pacific with special mention of how well the Australian sides have done so far this season.

Umaga did joke that, “we don’t want them to build up too far too much,” before saying: “But it can only be good for rugby.”

“Everyone’s coming closer. It means that there are more competitive games and hopefully people can see that this is something they want to watch and be a part of and I think that’s a great thing because it just builds the level of rugby,” he added.

“The Australian teams have really stepped up. Obviously, they’re not happy with what happened with the Wallabies last year and now every team, every coach, every player realises that they don’t want to be there again.”

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