Fans of New Zealand’s Baby Blacks could be forgiven a double take at the England team sheet today.
On it they will see the name Umaga, a surname that is revered across the country.
Tana Umaga won 74 caps for New Zealand, scoring 36 tries and captained the All Blacks to a clean sweep of the British & Irish Lions as well as the Grand Slam in 2005.
His nephew Jacob Umaga lines up for England in Sunday’s World Rugby U20 Championship final and as he explains facing the haka will be a very surreal experience.
“It’s going to feel quite weird, I’m used to seeing it a lot and I’ve performed it with family members,” said Jacob.
“To face it for the first time will be quite a different experience of seeing it. We will respect it and focus on the game.“
It's a family affair
Rugby runs right through his family, with father Mike playing international rugby for Samoa while cousin Thomas Umaga-Jensen is also in the New Zealand U20 squad in Georgia, although he hasn’t made the matchday 23. Nonetheless Sunday promises to be a real family affair.
Halifax born he attended Northowram Primary in the Yorkshire town before going to St John’s Primary and Kenilworth Secondary School.
He has since completed A-level studies for a BTEC in sport and French at Wyggeston & Queen Elizabeth I College in Leicester. Jacob played at Halifax-based Old Brodleians from the age of four (2002/04) and Kenilworth (2004/14).
Last June, Umaga switched from Leicester to the Wasps Academy and two months later scored a thrilling long-range try for England U18 against France in Cape Town.
His U20 debut was in the 59-17 Six Nations win over France at Exeter this February and he landed all of his five place-kicks against Wales six days later along the way to England’s 37-21 victory at Colwyn Bay.
“Rugby is a big part of my family, ever since I was a little boy I had a rugby ball at my feet or in my hands,” said Umaga. “My parents love the sport so being around them made me want to be a rugby player.
“I love the respect of the sport both on and off the pitch from the referee to the players and the spectators and coaches. It’s just so much fun, running around with your mates chucking a rugby ball about.”
Umaga is quick to credit the influence of his family on his career and is proud to be carrying on the family tradition in the sport, describing his England debut as a “huge honour”.
He adds: “Having my dad and uncle play for different countries, to add England to that family list is a really proud achievement. It’s amazing how far my family has come from New Zealand and Samoa to England. To think about all the people that have put on this shirt before me is really exciting.”
So what’s it like signing the national anthem?
“You stand there, look at the crowd and you think of all the sacrifices people have made to get me there.
“My parents have put a lot of time and effort into getting me to this point, they’ve helped me so much.”
So having a father who played 13 times for Samoa and an uncle who is revered in New Zealand, does 18-year-old Umaga feel any pressure to match their achievements? Not at all, he quickly adds: “It’s not pressure, it’s pride.
“People would think that the name puts me under a lot of pressure, but I like having it, I like carrying it around, people have got high expectations and if I can live up to it that will be huge.
“I definitely want to do the name justice. My dad is my biggest critic, whenever he is watching I’ve got to do him justice and make my family proud.”
England face a New Zealand side who like them are unbeaten in this year’s World Rugby U20 Championship final.
The side secured bonus-point victories over Samoa and Wales before beating Australia in their final pool game.
A late Zach Mercer try in the last four secured their place in today’s final and Umaga cannot wait for kick-off.
Before it though will come the haka. Fear or focus?
“I’ll just be focused on the first play of the game. Nothing else.”