Former All Black Lima Sopoaga has admitted he grew to “hate” rugby and struggled with mental health issues in the early days of his transition to northern hemisphere footy.
Sopoaga has faced heavy criticism since moving in 2018 to play for Wasps, with his poor form leading to plenty of comments both on social media and the UK media – including one article ranking him as the Premiership’s worst signing.
The 16-Test All Black told RugbyPass the rough move from New Zealand led to some dark days.
“I probably hated the game for a lot of my first year, to be totally honest,” Sopoaga told RugbyPass.
“I definitely had moments where I thought, 'I don’t know if I want to continue playing rugby.'
“My mental health took a pretty big hit. I was naive in that I didn’t think moving to the other side of the world would have such an effect on home life and on me personally.
“I just thought I’d come to another country, get a house, get a car, go to training, come home, and enjoy life. You’re trying to work out simple things like which supermarket do I shop at, paying this council tax and this insurance, setting my family up at the doctor. Even in an English-speaking country, that was hard.
“What made it worse were the club not doing well and me not playing well. It just all snowballed, man.”
The former Highlander said it was his family which helped him find perspective to get through his struggles.
However, he also revealed he got professional counselling with the help of the Rugby Players Association.
“I was pretty unhappy for a long time but we have gotten through it. I’ll be better for the struggle of moving over here and not being as successful as I’d have loved to be straight off the bat.
“I came over with the wrong mindset in that I just thought, ‘Sweet, I’m a bona fide rugby player, I know how to play rugby.’
“I didn’t mentally prepare for the fact that by the time I left Dunedin I had built these relationships with players over nine years, and I expected to walk right in and run a team as I would if I was running it back in Dunedin. That’s where I came unstuck.”
Sopoaga has since made a transition from first-five to fullback with the arrival of Jacob Umaga at the club this season and says he’s looking forward to getting back on the field after the Covid-19 pandemic in his new role.
“I like the freedom of playing 15. You end up organising the backline and helping out the 10 a lot. As a 10 myself, I know what Jacob or Jimmy [Gopperth] need from me at the back. I’m a voice, I’m their eyes, I’m their ears.
“It’s been awesome adding another string to my bow, but I still love 10, I love being the shot-caller and running a team.
“Before lockdown I was really enjoying rugby, it was really fun, and I just want to get back to that.
“I want to get back to loving my rugby because I’d started to find the joy again.”