“We come to help,” Tana Umaga told AS in Madrid’s Plaza de Oriente. The Classic All Blacks, a team that brings together distinguished former players of the New Zealand rugby team, have just performed their traditional ‘haka’ in front of a crowd in one of the most emblematic spots in Spain. It is part of the intense agenda prior to the game that this Saturday (20:45, Movistar Deportes) they will play against Spain at the Wanda Metropolitano, home of Atlético de Madrid.
Umaga is already 48 years old, but there are still traces on his body of the player he once was: a dominant center with kid gloves, in the best Kiwi tradition. He played 74 games and scored 180 points with the black jacket. He went on to captain the team, although he never won a World Cup. “It is important to support Spain after what has happened with the World Cup,” says the man who now works as coach of the Classic All Blacks.
Umaga refers to the disqualification of the Lions, who will form with several of the players who got the ticket after being withdrawn, due to improper alignment of Gavin van den Berg, an irregularly nationalized South African. A piece of news that transformed this duel: from a golden brooch to celebrate the classification to a vindictive scenario. And it is that the intention of the Spanish players is to send a message to World Rugby of unity and good health in Spanish rugby despite what happened.
The Classic All Blacks have picked up the gauntlet. “We want to give back everything they have given us, encourage the Spanish fans to support and push the game here,” says Umaga, delighted with the hospitality (“I love how people behave with us”, he assures) and the bet made by KiwiHouse, promoter of the match: “The stadium is of a very high level and there will be a lot of people. We want to give our better version”.
The New Zealander admits to being “surprised” by the fact that nearly 40,000 tickets have been sold despite being aware that “Spanish rugby is growing and has improved”, something that, he says, “is great to see”. Stephen Donald, the man who scored the penalty kick that gave New Zealand its second World Cup in 2011, speaks along the same lines. “It broke my heart what happened with the World Cup. Someone made a mistake and it was expensive. I hope that the game will give a boost to all those who have been left so disappointed.”
The Classic All Blacks have not come to Spain just to play rugby, but also to leave a legacy. In addition to the ‘haka’ in front of the Royal Palace, which appeared on all the news, on Thursday they gave a clinic to children from various clubs in Vallecas. They also witnessed a bullfight by everyone in Las Ventas, played golf, ate at one of Chicote’s restaurants, a great rugby fan, and Conrad Smith, another of the team’s historical figures, was interviewed by David Broncano in La Resistencia. Two years later than planned, with two postponements due to the pandemic, they will finally face the Lions in a match that, although it lost the festive character it could have had through no fault of its own, is still necessary.