Malakai Fekitoa credits fly-half Jacob Umaga with transforming Wasps’ attack and reckons the youngster’s impressive genes are contributing to his no-fear mentality.
Umaga, nephew of New Zealand midfield great Tana and son of former Samoa star Mike, has seized his chance ahead of Lima Sopoaga, steering Wasps to last month’s crucial win at Bristol.
Blitzkrieg centre Fekitoa predicts a huge future for the 21-year-old, telling The Rugby Paper: “He’s been playing really well and is already leading us forward. You can see he can handle pressure and do amazing stuff as well – for one so young he’s going to be great for the club.
“It’s exciting because he can break a tackle and is fast as well. His game-management is growing and you can see our attack has been getting better. At the same time, Lima is back now after his illness and we have Billy Searle, so it’s great to have that competition between them.”
Fekitoa added: “When I was at high school in Auckland with Charles Piutau, Tana Umaga came back from Toulon and wanted me to sign for his club side, Counties Manukau. I chose Auckland instead but Tana gave me a few coaching tips that I’ve always remembered, even now.
“I never played against Tana but he was a great player for New Zealand who everyone looked up to and you can see that runs through the family. Jacob has spoken to Tana many times and learned a lot from the guy, so hopefully he can continue bringing that leadership to us.”
After his summer move from Toulon, Fekitoa feels he is beginning to hit the kind of form Wasps were banking on from an experienced, 24-cap All Black in the prime of his career.
Fekitoa, 27, said: “On the field I’m happy everything is starting to click and off it everybody has been welcoming. It was obviously tough for the club early on but we’ve been working really hard on our roles and we’re really starting to connect as a group of players now.
“Our attack is coming right and there’s a lot of clarity about what we’re doing. As you saw at Bristol, we’re starting to score points so we’ll look to maintain that level now.”
Ten games into his Wasps career, Fekitoa is fully acclimatising to English rugby after two years in the Top 14. He added: “It’s a lot more structured here. You tend to go through a lot of plays and it’s very physical, whereas in France it’s physical but games are a bit more open.”
Meanwhile, Fekitoa believes his former international coach Ian Foster is the right man to have been entrusted with taking New Zealand forward. Some see succeeding the hugely successful Steve Hansen as a poisoned chalice, but Fekitoa says: “I think Ian will be great.
“I worked with him when I was there and he’s a great coach who gets on well with players, whether you’re in the side or not. With a good team behind him he’ll be fine and I’m really pleased to see him being rewarded after eight years. I think he’ll be very successful.”
Fekitoa is backing the former Waikato fly-half’s man-management skills to shine through, adding: “I was really close to him and not only did he develop me as a player on the field, off the field he understands players very well and makes sure everything is okay.
“If everything’s sorted off the field, you tend to play better and I’m sure all the younger guys coming through will like and respect him. The All Blacks are in good hands.”