Super Rugby Pacific: All Blacks great Tana Umaga to be named new Moana Pasifika head coach

Moana Pasifika have found their replacement for outgoing coach Aaron Mauger.

Newshub understands current Blues assistant Tana Umaga will take up the role from the 2024 season.

Umaga, 50, is seen as an ideal replacement for Mauger, who stood down from his role in charge of the competition newcomers after two underwhelming campaigns, during which the side won just three games in their first two Super Rugby Pacific seasons.

Umaga returns to a head coach role for the first time since 2018. The former All Blacks captain was in charge of the Blues from 2016-18, before opting to step aside and letting Leon MacDonald take over from the 2019 season.

In each of their three years under Umaga, the Auckland-based franchise placed bottom of the NZ conference, finishing with a 41 percent win rate overall.

Umaga has experience with Moana Pasifika, coaching them in 2020 for their one-off clash against the Māori All Blacks

Umaga's addition to Moana Pasifika is the final piece of the Super Rugby coaching merry-go-round, with the vacancies at the Blues, Hurricanes and Crusaders all filled.

Vern Cotter's unveiling as new Blues head coach earlier this week suggested Umaga's future with the Blues was uncertain. Jason O'Halloran was also announced as Cotter's assistant coach, meaning space to retain incumbents was limited.

"Dan Halangahu, Craig [McGrath] and Paul [Tito] are all sorted," said Blues chief executive Andrew Hore. "We've still got some ongoing discussions, because we've looked at the structure around Tom [Coventry] and Tana, and they are discussions, so that's why we took our time in the end. 

"We wanted to be in a position where we could do everybody, but that's life, isn't it, and they've got choice as well." 

That's a choice Umaga has already made and he may be joined by Coventry at Moana Pasifika. Newshub understands the current Blues forwards coach is also in talks to sign on as an assistant, although a deal has yet to be agreed.

The 74-test international inherits a side who are still trying to find their feet in Super Rugby, but clearly have the talent to do so. 

Tana Umaga.
Tana Umaga. Photo credit: Photosport

Despite losing powerhouse midfielder Levi Aumua to the Crusaders, Umaga may get one back from the current champions, with reports loose forward Sione Havili Talitui will head to Moana Pasifika next season.

Umaga will hope to replicate the feats of fellow newbies Fijian Drua, who have enjoyed a better run of success, qualifying for the quarter-finals in just their second season in Super Rugby.

It's unlikely to be that easy for Umaga, who faces a stiff challenge of his coaching ability, if he's to help Moana Pasifika rise from their current depths. They appear to be a club in crisis, with both their star player and head coach departing after just two seasons.

Umaga will need more than just next season, if he's to reverse their fortunes and help the struggling franchise reach the potential it feels it's capable of.