28 Jul 2015

What next for Lima Sopoaga?

5:51 am on 28 July 2015

OPINION: Is there a place for Lima Sopoaga in the All Blacks World Cup squad?

Lima Sopoaga at times looked like a seasoned veteran as he helped the All Blacks to their Rugby Championship win over South Africa at Ellis Park.

Lima Sopoaga on debut for All Blacks vs South Africa 2015.

Lima Sopoaga on debut for All Blacks vs South Africa 2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The nerves might have been flying around inside, but they hardly showed on one of rugby's greatest and most intimidating grounds.

Sure there were a few errors and perhaps the wrong decision here and there, but Steve Hansen and his co-selectors along with the rest of the country must be happy with what they saw.

There is little doubt that 2015 has been a breakout season for the 24-year-old Wellington-born player and the Highlanders run to the Super Rugby title was helped by him and also that journey has helped Sopoaga.

He's matured with the knowledge that he has a key part to play in the team, and he now knows all he really has to do for now is concentrate on doing his job properly and the rest should happen around him.

Sopaga says he just tried to embrace the occasion and enjoy it.

Lima Sopoaga

Lima Sopoaga Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Assistant coach Ian Foster says Sopoaga should be happy with his debut and he's now learnt how to control their game.

The fact that he was kept on for the entire 80 minutes meant the selectors were seriously testing him and he was able to close out the game, especially with the last kick that sealed the match.

So does he fit into the 31-man squad? I don't think so.

Dan Carter remains the number one number ten, Beauden Barrett has shown that he can turn a game when he comes off the bench and Colin Slade has the versatility to fill at least 3 positions.

For Sopoaga to make the trip to England, he'll probably have to take the place of someone else in the backline.

The thing with the All Blacks and a World Cup is that unless you are number one or two in your position then you really need to be a utility... that isn't in Sopoaga's favour.

So if 14 backs are picked for the World Cup there are very few places available to him. Three halfbacks, three first-fives (Carter, Barrett and Slade), 4 centres and 4 wing-fullbacks.

All Blacks Charles Piutau and Lima Sopoaga after win over South Africa 2015.

All Blacks Charles Piutau and Lima Sopoaga after win over South Africa 2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The good thing for the All Blacks, (Sopoaga might not like this), is that he's shown he can fill the breech and if 2011 is anything to go by, then he might be needed, just not straight away.

The All Blacks finished 2011 with their 4th choice number ten on the field and Steve Hansen has done his best to make sure there are at least four first-fives up to speed and ready to go.

Sopoaga has time on his hands and with Dan Carter and Colin Slade heading off overseas, then things should open up, eventually.

Stay fit Lima, your time will come.

A number of positions in the rest of the World Cup backline are still up in the air.

Will Andy Ellis or Tawera Kerr Barlow get the third halfback spot, will Malakai Fekitoa or Ryan Crotty join Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith in the centres and who will join Julian Savea and Ben Smith in the back three?

Fekitoa had a strong game when he came on at Ellis Park and perhaps has the x-factor which I like, but Ryan Crotty is safe and has never done anything wrong.

The selectors like Israel Dagg, so I expect him to go, and Cory Jane is a quality-reliable player... but is that enough to get him in?