Team of New Zealand’s top athletes hits Whakatane
Whakatane is the home to one of New Zealand’s most famous one-day touch rugby tournaments that attracts international entries and features many of New Zealand’s top athletes.
Tana Umaga and his sports star friends have been attending the tournament for fourteen years as the Baa Baaz team. Umaga and fellow former All Black Carolos Spencer founded the team to have an excuse to have an annual catch up with mates who were spread all over the country and across the ditch.
Without a doubt their team is one of the most esteemed group of players and considered the touch version of the British Barbarians rugby team. This years side featured Piri Weepu, Christian Cullen, Junior Tonu’u, Frano Botica and league legend Benji Marshall.
With a mixture of age, codes and talent the focus is on camaraderie, even though they are highly competitive. The team likes to keep its old faces in the team but always bring some young blood to run around.
This year the side lost 5-4 in the plate final to Freezin Hot but that didn’t stop the fun for the sporting royalty. The open grade was won by All Black Liam Messam and his fellow Chiefs team mate Tim Nanai Williams’ team ‘Lock’.
Umaga said “It is a great tournament that has really grown dramatically since we started. We were just a group of friends getting together and before you know it we have been here fourteen years and the tournament has grown to 72 teams.”
Winston Sua, the founder of the Baa Baaz team and whose idea it was to put a team in the Whakatane tournament all those years ago has taken the responsibility to organize sponsorship for star studded team. This year that included obtaining $15,000 of merchandise and product that was given out to the public at the event by Umaga and his team.
Tana said “It is great to see the look on the kid’s faces when the they get something from the likes of Benji and Piri. It is not something that happens everyday in Whakatane for these kids.”
The plans are already in place for next years’ event where Baa Baaz will celebrate their 15th anniversary at the tournament.