Sopoaga still find­ing his feet

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE HEP­BURN

LIMA Sopoaga’s English club is con­fi­dent the for­mer All Black will find his best form — next sea­son.

But it is hardly a sur­prise he is find­ing it dif­fi­cult to make an im­pact in the top tier in the north­ern hemi­sphere.

Sopoaga’s strug­gles have cast the spot­light on New Zealand play­ers bat­tling to live up to rep­u­ta­tion in Europe.

But Wasps di­rec­tor of rugby Dai Young said the $1 mil­lion­ayear Sopoaga was simply go­ing through a pre­dictable tran­si­tion.

Sopoaga played for eight sea­sons with the High­landers, mak­ing more than 90 ap­pear­ances for the south­ern fran­chise. He was a key man when the side won the ti­tle in 2015.

Young said in­juries to top play­ers such as livewire Spring­boks full­back Wil­lie le Roux had made Sopoaga’s task much more dif­fi­cult.

‘‘We al­ways knew Lima would take a bit of time to set­tle in and you have to feel a bit sorry for him be­cause he’s been try­ing to set­tle with half the team he ex­pected to be around him be­ing un­avail­able,’’ Young told The Rugby Pa­per.

‘‘That’s put more pres­sure on Lima but we know he’s a qual­ity player and we also know that, like most play­ers from the south­ern hemi­sphere, you’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to get the best out of them in their first sea­son in Eng­land.

‘‘He’s shown glimpses and with some of those more ex­pe­ri­enced, recog­nised play­ers around him, he’s go­ing to grow. They’ll take the pres­sure off and hope­fully he’ll go from strengthto­strength, which we’re con­fi­dent he will.’’

Sopoaga, who has a three­year con­tract, was yel­low­carded for a no­arms tackle in his lat­est match against Bath.

It is be­lieved Sopoaga was af­fected by spec­u­la­tion about Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als El­liot Daly and Nathan Hughes at the Wasps club.

Sopoaga (28 next month) was al­ways go­ing to take a while to find his best form at Wasps.

As a High­lander he was served by the best pass­ing half­back in the world — Aaron Smith — and played half his games un­der a roof in pris­tine con­di­tions. An attacking ap­proach and dom­i­nant loose for­wards were a big aid for Sopoaga then.

In Eng­land, the game is way more com­bat­ive and de­fence dom­i­nates. Teams stand closer to­gether and there are a lot of one­off run­ners. The ball is not spread quickly or far.

With Sopoaga hav­ing played eight sea­sons in the south it was al­ways go­ing to be a big ask to ex­pect him to be up to speed quickly in a com­pe­ti­tion which is markedly dif­fer­ent from the one where he plied his trade all his ca­reer till then.

In the English premier­ship, Saracens and Ex­eter are way out in front in the com­pe­ti­tion while the Wasps side is among a group which is not set­ting the world on fire but nei­ther is it out of the play­off race yet. — ad­di­tional re­port­ing by NZME

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

We know he’s a qual­ity player . . . Wasps di­rec­tor of rugby Dai Young has con­fi­dence in Lima Sopoaga (above) even though the long­serv­ing High­lander is strug­gling a lit­tle with the north­ern hemi­sphere game.

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