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Moana Pasifika add international coaching experience for 2024

Moana Pasifika add international coaching experience for 2024

All BlacksJanuary 27, 2024

Moana Pasifika won't lack coaching experience in DHL Super Rugby Pacific this season, with former internationals Stephen Jones and Nili Latu joining the side under head coach Tana Umaga.

Jones, a 104 Test veteran back for Wales, with six British & Irish Lions Tests, 197 games for Llanelli and 107 for the Scarlets, and 43 for Clermont Auvergne, and Latu with 54 Tests for Tonga, Super Rugby experience with the Chiefs and Hurricanes, 110 games for the NEC Rockets in Japan and 48 games with Newcastle, add significant gravitas to the competition newcomers in their third season.

Jones, who comes from coaching with Wasps and Scarlets at the club level and as Wales attack coach from 2019-2022, said he and his family have enjoyed the experience of moving to Auckland, and people have gone out of their way to help them.

"We've been able to get out and see the country for what it is, to see the amazing beaches."

He said it was an 'amazing opportunity' to coach in Super Rugby with Moana Pasifika, and the decision was a 'no-brainer'.

His move had its origins in May last year when he came to Auckland to work on his personal development with the Blues. While there, he caught up with assistant coach and former on-field opponent Tana Umaga, who has since been appointed head coach for Moana Pasifika, and Tom Coventry, who has also moved across town.

He never thought an opportunity would develop, but it was terrific to receive a phone call from Umaga later offering him a role with the side.

A special season loading for @juliansavea7 and @moanapasifika_ 🤩#SuperRugbyPacific pic.twitter.com/N4yBnu0ELM

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) January 24, 2024

"The people I'm working with are incredible. The playing group, we've been working them very, very hard, they've been open-minded, willing to learn and willing to grow. The experience has been top drawer."

Having spent 95 per cent of his international career playing under New Zealand coaches Sir Graham Henry, Sir Steve Hansen, and Warren Gatland, he was fully aware of New Zealand's playing style and philosophies, which apply in Super Rugby.

"But it's been awesome to watch the boys' catch-pass skills and ability to play with width and tempo.

"It hasn't surprised me, but it is awesome to see the vision and speed with which they can transfer the ball along with the great athletic ability we have here."

His aim with the side was to learn, get better, experience different styles and philosophies, working with different cultures, and he has loved every minute of it.

Forwards coach Nili Latu is well-versed in New Zealand rugby compared to Jones but is grateful for the opportunity to coach the side.

"I am Moana itself, being a Tongan but I represent everybody else with the ocean connecting all the islands. That's where our connection is. For me, it is an opportunity to work with my people."

The Moana Pasifika concept was making an impact as it entered its third year. Before, players were lost to other New Zealand franchises or overseas.

"But setting up Moana shows we are here, Pasifika in New Zealand. This is a pathway for a lot of our young men, but it's also trying to share your experience and the opportunity Moana has given everybody."

Latu said that, as a player, he never imagined an opportunity like Moana Pasifika would be available, and the team's administration had done an amazing job of getting the team a license.

"We are building a new franchise and I believe we are only going to get better from here."

Since the side has come together, the coaches have identified players' strengths and weaknesses and found ways to work around those aspects while bringing everybody together.

Debuting for @MoanaPasifika_ in 2024 and the club's new captain, James Lay 🫡#SuperRugbyPacific pic.twitter.com/POVZps3LPn

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) January 22, 2024

"That's always a challenge as a coach, but what we love about it as Pasifika is that we enjoy what we do. As long as everybody is smiling, we're good."

Latu said he was enjoying the way the coaches were running the team.

"We're expecting so much of them, and the boys have been working hard, and I'm sure they can't wait to get out on the field next week."

Moana Pasifika has a warm-up game with the Highlanders in Queenstown next week.

Latu said having Jones coaching with the side reflected how the rugby journey worked from playing each other to ending up coaching together.

"He brings a different dynamic of understanding of the game. It's great for us to learn, and I'm sure he's learning as well."

Latu said learning was essential for him, too. It was his first involvement in a Super Rugby set-up, and while observing how the side was prepared for the season ahead, he was also conscious of what he could offer the team due to his experience.

The side's goal was to place in the first four of the competition, and once they achieved that, anything was possible.

Teams have made the top eight in the past by having five wins, so qualifying was achievable. It was a case of ensuring everyone was on the same path.

"We've got a strong mindset as Pasifika, and when the stars align, you could see in the World Cup when Fiji, Samoa and Tonga turn up, when everything aligns in a straight line anything can happen. That's the way we see this new Moana Pasifika team."

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