Sun, Oct 29, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Umaga arrives to give Toulon a boost

AP , PARIS

New Zealand rugby player Tana Umaga, left, the former captain and center of the All Blacks, arrives at Nice airport, southern France, with Toulon club president Mourad Boudjellal on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga arrived on Friday for a stint at the French second-division rugby club which has high hopes he will help them to promotion.

Toulon contracted Umaga for 10 matches, starting today against Lyon.

Umaga, who retired from international rugby almost a year ago, was the first player granted a temporary release from his contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union because of his outstanding service.

He made 79 appearances for New Zealand, ending with a Grand Slam victory tour of Britain almost a year ago. The 33-year-old center captained the Hurricanes to this year's Super 14 final and Wellington to New Zealand's provincial final last week.

"Umaga is an idol for many players of the club, who finally will be able to see him up close," Toulon spokeswoman Sandrine Nacci said. "The objective is to go up to the Top 14 next season."

Toulon was demoted from the Top 14 last season, and club co-president Mourad Boudjellal's answer was a spending spree on international talent. Umaga could find himself in a backline with seven players from seven different countries.

The experiment hasn't worked so far, with three wins from seven games, and ninth place in the 16-team standings.

Umaga was expected to return to New Zealand in time for the start of next season's Super 14 in February.

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