Lima Sopoaga out of All Black plans

Tuesday February 20, 2018 Written by Published in Rugby Union
Last year may have been Lima Sopoaga’s fi nal appearance in the All Blacks jersey. 18021904 Last year may have been Lima Sopoaga’s fi nal appearance in the All Blacks jersey. 18021904

Having chosen to take his career overseas to England, it appears that Lima Sopoaga’s tenure in the All Blacks jersey is over.

 

The Herald on Sunday reported that Sopoaga, who will see out the Super Rugby season with the Highlanders before heading to London to join the Wasps, is unlikely to add to his 16 test caps.

The Highlanders standoff, who has maternal links to the Cook Islands, is not expected to be invited to the four All Blacks camps during the Super Rugby season, nor is he expected to feature when the French touch down on New Zealand soil in June for the three-test series.

Since All Blacks began heading overseas in search of riches unavailable domestically, the rugby union has held firm to the belief that to play in the black jersey, one must be playing in New Zealand.

However, prominent players that have announced they are leaving have tended to stick in the squad until they left.

Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow maintained his place in the All Blacks until one week before he joined French club La Rochelle at the end of last year.

Likewise, Blues prop Charlie Faumuina was included right up until his exit to Toulouse.

Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua both did not play for the All Blacks again after announcing their moves to Ulster and Bristol respectively, although neither were seen as crucial players to the squad.

Sopoaga, however, is seen as the key backup to reigning Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, and currently there is no established first-five to take up the reserve role.

Eighteen months out from the World Cup in Japan, potential options are Damian McKenzie, who has spent most of his international career at fullback, Crusaders pivot Richie Mo’unga, and potentially rookie Blues playmaker Stephen Perofeta.

The Herald also reported that Sopoaga’s departure likely caught the All Blacks staff – including coach Steve Hansen – by surprise, meaning that finding a contingency for Barrett becomes the immediate priority.

Although Sopoaga never reached the star potential some thought he was capable of after his test debut in South Africa in 2015, scoring 12 points and looking like a 50-test veteran.

If his move overseas does signal the completion of his All Blacks career, Sopoaga will leave having scored 55 points in 16 tests, including one try.

He leaves for the Wasps, where he will join Brad Shields later this year, on a two-and-a-half-year deal worth around $1million per season.

A representative from the Cook Islands Rugby Union, when the deal was announced last month, said that it provided them with that opportunity to approach him and if he was interested, Sopoaga would be welcome to play for the national sevens side.

            - CL/NZ Herald

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