Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga has kept his job as Toulon manager but will now resume his playing career to try to help the French club side escape relegation.
Duncan Johnstone writes for RugbyHeaven NZ that Umaga, the blockbusting centre who retired from competitive rugby two years ago to move into coaching, will continue in his role as manager but has also signed a player contract until the end of the season, Toulon confirmed.
The club are bottom of the French championship table and are in a desperate battle to avoid relegation, having been promoted to this year’s championship after winning the second division last season.
The 35-year-old Umaga signed a two-year deal as Toulon manager last year, when they were still in the second division, after playing seven games for them in 2006.
Former France winger and captain Philippe Saint-Andre is stepping down as director of rugby at Englis club Sale at the end of this season to take up the same role at Toulon next season, the French club confirmed.
Saint-Andre will be joined by France hooker Sebastien Bruno, who is also leaving Sale for Toulon.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal announced the major changes at a press conference.
“I said after our defeat to Dax that I was totally responsible for the mistakes in recruitment and that I was searching for a mastermind,” said Boudjellal .
“I’ve found that mastermind: Philippe Saint-Andre, who will be sporting director in charge notably of recruitment and sporting structures. He will work in close collaboration with manager Tana Umaga.
“Tana is a natural leader and the team has an enormous respect for him,” said Boudjellal, adding that Umaga had been training for two months, “feels ready in his head … and will make his return when he’s ready”.
Umaga played 74 tests for the All Blacks between 1997 and 2005. He retired from international rugby after leading the All Blacks to just their second Grand Slam. He captaind the All Blacks in 21 tests under coach Graham Henry, becoming the first Pacific Islander to skipper New Zealand in a test.
He played more than 100 games for the Hurricanes in Super rugby and notched a century of appearances for Wellington before moving into coaching where he has struggled to make the same impact he did as a player.
Boudjellal, who has been searching for a decent No 10, confirmed that Cheetahs fly-half Conrad Barnard will join the club next Wednesday. That ends rumours of former All Blacks first five-eighths Carlos Spencer moving there from Northampton.
French international Pierre Mignoni (Clermont) has also signed for next season.
Pacific Islanders international prop Tonga Lea’aetoa is also coming to the club while star rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams will extend his contract.
Springbok loose forward Joe van Niekerk has been offered a three year deal.Tweet