Prevayl took a road trip to the Wasps Elite Performance and Innovation Centre, to visit newest Team Prevayl member, Jacob Umaga. In between drop goals and a heavy-duty gym session, we delved into Jacob’s journey and discovered that rugby is woven into his DNA.
‘My England cap, my dad’s Samoan cap and my uncle’s New Zealand cap. It’s cool to see how far the family name travels across the world.’
It appears a career in rugby was written in the stars for Jacob. In fact, the young fly-half never even considered a backup plan, if rugby didn’t pan out. Fortunately, his parents were very supportive, and he would soon make a name for himself.
‘There was definitely a little bit of pressure. I was brought up playing rugby, I was never forced into it, but every weekend I would go to games with my dad.’
Jacob, and his dad [Mike Umaga] are very close when it comes to feedback. He somewhat jokingly recalls his dad being very hot on his case. Now, Wasps’ starting fly-half, having acquired significant experience as a pro, and his dad, fully committed to his coaching career, the rugby fanatics are able to bounce off each other swimmingly.
‘My mum always gives me unconditional support and my dad gives me the tough love, but he’s got better, especially now I’ve grown up.’
In 2018, Jacob played for Auckland Rugby Union and got to spend nine months with his uncle [Tana Umaga]. People are naturally in ore of Jacob’s link to rugby royalty, and he would always smile and nod along when being probed, but he admits - besides seeing his uncle on holiday now and again - he never really knew him, until he played for Auckland.
‘He gets stopped in the street all the time. For me to hang out with him and see what the world’s like through his eyes was pretty cool.’
Jacob was able to glean many off-field lessons during this time regarding recovery and nutrition. As a seasoned vegetarian, Tana studied what his nephew was putting into his body and tried to set him on the right path.
‘He’s always been obsessed with looking after himself, making sure he’s getting the right nourishment. Whereas me, as a twenty-year old, I was going to KFC every day.’
The fleet of foot Wasps star has been involved in the England squad since U18s and U20s. Competing in the Rugby World Cup in Georgia was a huge stepping stone towards Jacob’s senior debut.
Jacob remembers fondly battling against the best players in the world and getting to meet some of them again, later in life.
‘I played against Samoa which felt really weird at the time, and when I went to Auckland, I actually played against a lot of the lads I had previously played, in the World Cup from New Zealand and Samoa.’
In January 2020, Jacob made his long-awaited senior debut, an incredible feat for any young player. Being able to run out to a roaring crowd, to represent your country, and at Twickenham no less, Jacob’s personal triumph was shared with his family - who were of course in attendance.
Another London-based fly-half to make his senior debut was Marcus Smith. The two youngsters - having previously played together at U20s - partnered famously against the USA. Marcus, starting at number ten and Jacob coming on at centre, it seemed a new era of English rugby was in the air.
‘To play alongside Marcus, especially after being on opposite sides for so long, was great. I got to see first-hand why he is so highly regarded.’
Another “perk” of wearing the rose on your chest, is to be coached by none other than Eddie Jones. The Australian coaching powerhouse is notorious for challenging his players and getting them to think differently. He strives for perfection and to stay ahead of the competition.
‘He literally wants to be the best in the world in every aspect of rugby.’
Eddie Jones is also known for his somewhat unorthodox managerial style. In fact, the veteran rugby coach is not opposed to trying unconventional training methods, if it leads to an increase in performance.
‘During one training session, he actually got us chucking an egg around. That was definitely something I had never done before.’
‘The aim was to work on our hand-eye coordination. It was a bit bizarre, but I really enjoyed it.’
Jacob has certainly found a home at the London Wasps, he’s also made some life-long friendships along the way, such as lightning-fast winger, Paolo Odogwu. The two had actually played against one another some ten years prior, Paolo, playing for Staffordshire and Jacob for Warwickshire.
‘I just remember this lad on the other side of the pitch, who had the biggest legs I’d ever seen, and was only five-foot tall.’
They met again whilst they were both stationed at Leicester, however, it was only when Paolo signed for Wasps in 2019, that they became inseparable. So much so in fact, the pair have started their own clothing company.
Jacob has wanted to have his own clothing brand since he was a fourteen-year-old, mocking up designs on his laptop. Paolo, who is “a bit more out there” when it comes to fashion, decided that they should go into business together, and they haven’t looked back since.
‘We came up with loads of names and then we stuck with Composure Club, and it’s taken off from there.’
‘Everything we’ve put out has been really well received from our teammates, to some of the fans. Hopefully we can just continue to push forward.’
So, what does the future hold for Jacob? Can his team make their way back to the very top? Has rugby taken a back seat to his fashion aspirations?
‘My main focus is winning here with the Wasps! Winning as many games as possible, getting to that final.’
‘We went through so much last year that I’d love for us at the end of this season to be amongst the best.’