Former All Blacks star Lima Sopoaga warns NZ rugby of lucrative overseas deals outweighing pull of black jersey

Former All Blacks first-five Lima Sopoaga has warned New Zealand rugby that the lure of offshore deals is starting to rival the honours of wearing the black jersey.

Sopoaga played 16 Tests for the All Blacks and is now plying his trade in the English Premiership after signing a lucrative two-year deal with the Wasps team based in Coventry.

The 26-year-old says NZ Rugby's policy of not selecting Kiwi players playing overseas, may not be enough to keep talent in New Zealand, with money luring more and more Kiwi rugby players abroad.

"Things are starting to change and players are starting to wise up," Sopoaga told The Guardian.

"They realise that it's a business these days. A lot of us are starting to talk to each other more and talk about experiences and about how we can benefit from the game because it is a business and it can be pretty cut-throat at times.

"For a lot of guys like myself, who come from big families, from low socio-economic backgrounds the chance to change your family's life is pretty overwhelming.

"It's not something you should take lightly and sometimes the jersey is not enough for a better life.

Lima Sopoaga celebrates against South Africa
Lima Sopoaga celebrates against South Africa Source: Photosport

"It is special, the experiences you have are pretty surreal, but down the track those things don't pay for a roof over your head."

Sopoaga is one of many recent New Zealand players to leave early in their rugby careers for big time offers abroad in Europe and the UK.

Former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Cruden, Steven Luatua and Julian Savea left New Zealand while still in their 20s and and still eligible for All Blacks selection.

Sopoaga says the pull of lucrative overseas deals is just too good to pass up.

"You can easily see why the riches of Europe for young guys appeal – rugby doesn't last forever and younger guys are becoming more aware of that," he said.

"I think that's a good thing. For me having my daughter changed things, how I looked at rugby, how I looked at my life. Rugby isn't forever. It can all be taken away from you."

The former Highlanders No.10 found himself in a tight spot, with Beauden Barrett cementing the starting jersey for the All Blacks and Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo'unga air-marked as covers.

Sopoaga chose to take up a lucrative two-year lucrative deal with the Wasps, even with the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan around the corner.

COVENTRY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08:  Lima Sopoaga of Wasps offloads the ball during a Premiership Rugby match between Wasps and Exeter Chiefs at Ricoh Arena on September 8, 2018 in Coventry, United Kingdom.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Lima Sopoaga of Wasps offloads the ball during a Premiership Rugby match between Wasps and Exeter Chiefs at Ricoh Arena in Coventry, United Kingdom. Source: Getty


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Wallabies legend backs under-fire Cheika to lead team to another strong World Cup campaign

Thursday marks one year till the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup but former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock is urging Australian fans not to panic.

Even if they have every right to.

"They've still got time," Mortlock told AAP when asked if under-fire coach Michael Cheika had the capacity to arrest the Wallabies' alarming decline from 2015 finalists to an all-time low ranking of seventh in the world following Saturday's sobering loss to Argentina.

"You've only got to look at the last World Cup. 'Cheik' only had the team for less than 12 months.

"So it can be done.

"It's more a case of what's happening now and the systemic issues that are creating the poor results of late.

"That's probably more the question: What specifically do they need to do better to consistently turns these defeats around?

"A lot of them are quite narrow, barring the ones against New Zealand."

The concern for Mortlock is the Wallabies' troubles are widespread, though not necessarily deep rooted - and certainly not irreversible.

Australia's 2007 World Cup captain nominated the Wallabies' inconsistent defensive displays, ill-discipline, "robotic" attack and long-running lineout woes as the four chief issues holding Cheika's side back.

"It can be turned around and, once things start falling in place, it can happen quite quickly," Mortlock said.

"However, there's four things I've highlighted that need to be consistently done at a high level when it matters the most. That's Test-match footy.

"But questions need to be asked a little bit about these facets of our game because they've been off - and they're considerably off."

Just how off is evident in the Wallabies' dreadful record against the top-tier nations since he took the helm in October, 2014.

Since then, Australia are two from 11 against the top-ranked All Blacks, one from five against world No.2 Ireland and one from seven against Eddie Jones' England, who the Wallabies haven't beaten since the 2015 World Cup.

The Wallabies have also lost their past two encounters with Scotland and beaten South Africa only once in their past four starts before slumping to their first defeat to Argentina on home soil in 35 years.

All up, the Wallabies have an unflattering 50 per cent winning strike rate under Cheika - 26 wins from 52 Tests.

The good news is they are a combined seven from seven against their 2019 World Cup Pool D rivals Wales (4-0), Fiji (2-0), Uruguay (1-0) and Georgia since his appointment.

Only a complete disaster would stop the two-time champions and four-time World Cup finalists from safely progressing to the knockout stages in Japan.

Even a loss and finishing second in their pool wouldn't be the end of the world given Australia's quarter-final opponents will be tough regardless, coming from Pool C's group of death containing England, Argentina, France, Tonga and the USA.

In any case, Mortlock maintains Cheika is the man to lead the Wallabies to the global showpiece despite calls for his head growing louder.

"Cheika's a fantastic championship coach," Mortlock said.

"He's really good at getting everybody aligned and armed and ready to go in to battle for something unique and obviously now that's the World Cup in the next 12 months.

"That's going to be his sole focus and I'd argue he's in his element when he's got something really specific to focus on.

"If I go back to prior to him getting the last World Cup coaching gig, when he took the Waratahs to the (Super Rugby) championship in 2014, there were a lot of things that he did that were effective.

"He has an ability to galvanise the team to go hard towards an end goal.

"So he went very well in 2015 with limited preparation so I very much think he's still the right man to steer us through a campaign."

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika during the Wallabies Captain's Run at Eden Park ahead of this weekend's Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship match in Auckland. Friday 14 August 2015. Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika Source: Photosport


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Watch: Tasman winger stuns Turbos with explosive run to score superb solo try

Tasman have outlasted a spirited Manawatū to earn a 29-19 Mitre 10 Cup win in Palmerston North tonight.

The Mako were made to work all night by the Turbos but got off to a flying start thanks to a superb solo run by Jamie Spowart.

Spowart was the first receiver off a Mako scrum inside their own half and after a simple step back to his right, burst through a hole in the Manawatū defence.

The Tasman winger ended up running 60m untouched to score and give Tasman an early lead they would never surrender in the rest of the match.

That wasn't to say the Premiership side weren't tested by the struggling Championship outfit as Manawatū pressure Tasman's forwards all night.

As a result, the Mako's scrums and lineouts began to become a serious issue in the game as they gave up multiple knock-ons and penalties which the Turbos converted on twice.

Despite a try on halftime to cut the deficit to 14-12, the Turbos were ultimately undone early in the second half when they gave up two tries in the space of eight minutes.

A late score from Michael Tagicakibau wasn't enough to rein in the visitors either.

With the win, Tasman remain second on the table behind Auckland in the Premiership while Manawatū continue to remain trapped in second-to-last in the Championship with just one win in six games so far this year.


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