November 26, 2005 1:34:28 PM CET
Umaga to quit (NZ Herald)
By Wynne Gray
All Black captain Tana Umaga will sign off from international rugby tomorrow - his mind and body unable to endure two more seasons until the next World Cup.
The 32-year-old centre, the first Pacific Islander to skipper the All Blacks, has been weighing up his international sporting future since the series whitewash against the Lions.
Umaga has battled the conflicting forces of his passion for the All Blacks and instincts which told him he could not sustain the schedule until the 2007 World Cup in France.
He wavered when coach Graham Henry and others canvassed solutions to prolong his time at the top - ideas such as cutting his test and travel demands, and even taking a gap year.
Some ideas appealed, but Umaga felt it unwise for an All Black captain to get special concessions.
And the deeper he went on this Grand Slam tour, the more he was convinced his instincts to finish an All Black career which started against Fiji in 1997 were right.
The lingering fallout from the tackle on Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll, relentless media criticism in Britain and death threats in Ireland, all strengthened Umaga's conviction.
When he pondered a Super 14 season starting in early February and a 14-test schedule next year for the All Blacks, Umaga knew something had to give.
The more he thought about the rigours of two more years in the international game, and the extended time away from his wife and three children, Umaga knew he had to put a fullstop on his career after 74 tests.
When he accepted Henry's offer to succeed Reuben Thorne as All Black captain, Umaga told the coach he would give him two years and then reassess things.
The pair became strong colleagues during an association which will end tomorrow with 20 wins and three losses in tests. But neither that friendship, nor other close mates, could dissuade Umaga from quitting.
He will see out the remaining two years of his contract with the Hurricanes and Wellington and, unless there is an extreme plight or doctors discover some anti-ageing potion, his All Black days are over.
In giving up the All Black role, Umaga will turn his back on a salary believed to be more than $500,000 a year - from the All Blacks, NPC and Super 12 combined - though he will still be well rewarded for his role with the Hurricanes and Wellington.
It is unclear whether he will make any announcement but the Herald understands the All Blacks coaching staff have accepted that Murrayfield tomorrow will be Umaga's final appearance in the black jersey - his 21st test as All Black captain.
The following day, the seasoned midfield back will join teammates Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw and Isaia Toeava and coach Henry for a trip to the International Rugby Board awards ceremony in Paris.
McCaw has deputised for Umaga as All Black captain in two tests and is probably seen as the natural successor. However, his role as openside flanker does bring him into regular conflict with referees and he has suffered several recent head injuries.
Another former captain, Anton Oliver, is still in the squad though his season has also been blighted by injury and he is in stiff competition for his hooking place with Keven Mealamu.