Twelve years on from the spear tackle which ended Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions tour to New Zealand, Blues head coach Tana Umaga has faced questions over his role in the infamous first Test of 2005.
Ahead of facing the Lions at Eden Park on Wednesday, the former All Blacks captain’s past controversy became a matter of focus which he disregarded as being irrelevant.
“That was 12 years ago, if people can’t put it behind them I suppose they never will,” Umaga told the the assembled press, with Sonny Bill Williams sat beside him.
“It’s not about that time now. It’s about this group now and against the Lions and hopefully the memories they make that are positive ones – and we just move on from that.”
The citing commissioner at the time opted not to bring action against Umaga and Mealamu, and the centre later wrote in his autobiography that things had been escalated beyond what could be considered rational.
“I never went out to commit foul play: I didn’t punch guys on the ground or stomp on them. So I said, ‘Oh well, mate, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I’m sorry for what happened to you but there was no intent in it; it was one of those unfortunate things that happen in rugby.“
The incident in the 2nd minute of the first Test left Lions captain O’Driscoll with a tour-ending shoulder injury requiring surgery. But the Ireland legend explained that after previous frosty conversations in the wake of the incident, he and Umaga did reach a middle ground at a function a few years ago.
“I thought, ‘Maybe, this is the time when you need to be the bigger man and go over and shake hands’, O’Driscoll told The Telegraph.
“I went over to him and did just that. We chatted for a while and that was the end of it.”
After side-stepping the issue to keep the attention on 2017 rather than 2005, Umaga urged his players to grasp the opportunity to impress after the Lions’ faltered in their tour opener against the Provincial Barbarians, having to work hard for a 13-7 victory.
“We’ve talked about that, the media has got on the back of the Lions,” said Umaga.
“But that’s what happens, especially with a juggernaut like that. There’s big expectation for them but we’ve got big expectation on ourselves too. They will want a more polished performance but we just have to keep the pressure on them.
“It’s a great opportunity and for our guys to be involved in something pretty special.”
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