Peter Umaga-Jensen won’t be running out for the All Blacks on Sunday afternoon, but his call-up to the squad earlier this week marks another remarkable rise up the ranks.
Today, back in his provincial outfit at Wellington the 22-year old midfielder summed it up in just a few words. “Pretty cool”.
But his journey goes well beyond “pretty cool”.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said earlier this week Umaga-Jensen is “a young guy who's had a lot of potential when he came out of school, and then probably plateaued a little bit, but I think he's now learning what it is to work hard".
That plateau less a knock on Umaga-Jensen’s ability, but more a result of struggling for game time at the top level.
The Wellington and Hurricanes midfield has been a notoriously difficult berth to crack.
Ngani Laumape, both Matt and Billy Proctor, Vince Aso, Wes Goosen – even twin brother Thomas all among the stiff competition he’s faced in the past few years.
It's that competition his Wellington Lions coach Leo Crowley thinks has served his development well.
“There's a lot of competition [for places] in the Hurricanes. At the end of the day, if players don't want to make a shift at some stage, they'll get left behind. Pete's a big imposing player, good running skills, had an opportunity and took it.”
Umaga-Jensen also credits a shift in his attitude during Covid-19’s enforced break.
“For me, I think during the Covid lockdown, I said to myself "If I really want it, I’ve got to train hard, and show the coaches I want to be here.”
Jump forward to today, and he’s only one, maybe two injuries away from running out for the All Blacks.
For Crowley, that was only a matter of time.
“We always hoped he was next cab off the rank, so we're pleased for him,” he said.
“He's just carried on his maturity from finishing a good Hurricanes end of season. I see massive growth in him, and what his ceiling is, I'm not so sure. Hopefully a lot higher than it is now.”
But already that ceiling is pretty high, if his recent Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign is anything to go by, one that forced the All Blacks selectors’ hands.
“He was strong with ball in hand, he ran some great lines, and he beat some very good defenders. Jack [Goodhue] and [Anton Lienert-Brown] both found him quite a handful with some of the lines he ran,” said Foster.
This week we was rewarded with two days’ training with the All Blacks in Wellington, but you have to think more opportunities are knocking.
His Lions coaches already putting contingency plans in place in case Umaga-Jensen travels to Australia with an expanded All Blacks squad.
But for at least another week, Crowley is no doubt delighted he has his midfielder back for this weekend’s Mitre 10 Cup game against Otago, where he will shift to second-five.
“I've been playing that position for quite a while, and it’s not too different to centre. I guess break the line [being my main role] but I also back myself with the playmaking as well.”
If he’s able to compliment his physical ball-carrying, by showing an ability to provide a genuine second game-driving option at the elite level, that versatility will only continue to drive his stock upwards.