Opinion: Lima Sopoaga chose cash over country - and there's nothing wrong with that

With All Blacks and Highlanders star Lima Sopoaga having yesterday confirmed he's leaving New Zealand for English club side Wasps, the double standard of players being pressured to choose country over cash has again reared its ugly head.

Sopoaga is just the latest star to add his name to the list of All Blacks leaving for Europe in their prime, with the likes of Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow among those to turn down the black jersey in favour of the Euro - and that's just in the last year.

But, while reaction to players leaving usually ranges from somewhere between "how dare they?!" to "we didn't need them anyway!", surely it's time to stop chastising sportsmen for chasing the cash when it's so easily available.

In no other industry apart from sport are professionals not only pressured to - but expected - to turn down the large sums of money on offer for their services to remain with their current employers.

If you were offered the chance to double, or even triple your current salary, you couldn't accept it quick enough. It's exactly the same for athletes, for a number of reasons.

It's claimed the 81-Test loosie will move after the next Super Rugby season and link up with Malakai Fekitoa and Ma'a Nonu. Source: 1 NEWS

With nearly every All Blacks star who's left in recent times, the decision has more often than not been in relation to a player choosing a more financially secure future for a young family, something more important than individual honours won on the field.

In Fekitoa's case, this was especially true, leaving New Zealand to join French club Toulon, giving up the All Blacks at age 25 to support not just his immediate, but extended family in Tonga.

As All Blacks fans, we need to realise that representing your country may be a player's personal ambition, but professionally it shouldn't have to be the primary concern of an athlete.

It doesn't just extend to rugby either, with now former Black Caps bowler Mitchell McClenaghan turning his back on a New Zealand contract to pursue a career as a freelance Twenty20 "merchant".

The opportunity to provide for his loved ones was one too good for Fekitoa to turn down. Source: 1 NEWS

McClenaghan's decision doesn't just benefit his bank balance, but also his health, with his once injury-ravaged frame now free to take part in the easier lifestyle that T20 cricket brings with it, bowling four overs every other night rather than battling it out for five days in Tests.

To get philosophical, life is short - and athlete's careers are even shorter.

Sportsmen and women are responsible for looking after themselves professionally, and that means seeking the best deal possible for their services, the same way people of any other profession do.

Yes, it might be inconvenient or even sad to see a player like Sopoaga choose to grab the money and run, but it's time we accept that players are entitled to look after themselves ahead of pleasing the most die-hard fans.

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

Most read: Meet the Kiwi farmer who went from being a Black Fern to becoming the first female to ref a men's first-class game

This story was first published on Tuesday September 18

Rebecca Mahoney says the milestone isn’t about gender – it’s about hard work and a bit of training. Source: 1 NEWS | Sky

Former Black Fern Rebecca Mahoney may have made history when she became the first woman to referee a men’s first-class rugby match last weekend, but she’s shaking off the milestone.

"It's not about who you are or where you're from or what your gender is, it's just hard work and a bit of training."

The 35-year-old has been around rugby most of her life, having won two World Cups before trading in her No.10 jersey for the whistle.

That experience came in handy on Saturday in Te Aroha when she officiated her first Mitre 10 Heartland Championship game between King Country and Thames Valley.

"To see women ref out there, there's no problems," Thames Valley captain Alex Bradley said after the game.

"They take control - probably better than some of the men."

But it’s not just her experience from the game that helps her.

Mahoney says farm life in Eketahuna plays an important role too.

"I'm extremely challenged to hit a standard that most of the boys can hit quite easily, and that's not going to change - genetics aren’t going to change that," she said.

"It’s just a lot of hard work that's going to have to go into it."

History shows the rural lifestyle has gone hand in hand with rugby's greatest figures – take Sir Colin Meads as a prime example.

Women have officiated men in Tests between developing nations but nothing close to the intensity of first-class New Zealand domestic rugby.

While Mahoney doesn’t think she’ll ever officiate the All Blacks, she’s happy knowing the path is a little bit closer.


John Mitchell leaves Bulls for defence coach role with England under Eddie Jones - report

Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell has reportedly finalised a deal to join Eddie Jones as England's new defence coach.

ON THE MOVE: John Mitchell

South African newspaper Die Burger reports Mitchell has been released from his Super Rugby head coaching role at the Bulls after the Rugby Football Union agreed to pay a transfer fee.

The fee reportedly sat between NZ$300,000 and $450,000.

Mitchell will now assist Jones as the team looks to turn around their recent form in time for next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Former Springboks captain Victor Matfield, who played 140 matches for the Bulls, has been rumoured as a possible replacement for Mitchell.

Under Mitchell, the Bulls finished 12th in this year's competition after losing 10 of their 16 games.



First woman to ref a men's first-class rugby match reflects on journey - 'I wasn't sure it was achievable'

Former Black Fern Rebecca Mahoney achieved a milestone for woman in rugby over the weekend when she became the first female referee to officiate a men's first-class game, but she admits she once thought it may have never been possible.

Mahoney, who played 16 matches for the Black Ferns before transitioning to refereeing, was put in charge of Saturday's Mitre 10 Heartland Championship match between Thames Valley and King Country.

"Thames Valley was a fantastic host union for me," she said.

"Just a nice, small, heartland union to get me my first game which was pretty special... the boys were good and it was a really good game."

ONN 1 News at 6 promo image
For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

The 35-year-old said she decided to take up the whistle after realising the women's game was growing.

"I'm really proud that I've achieved what I set out to achieve.

"Three years ago, I set the goal of wanting to referee men's first-class rugby and at the time, I wasn't sure if it was achievable.

"But I've had faith put in me and really enjoyed it."

Rebecca Mahoney controlled a Heartland Championship match between Thames Valley and King Country. Source: 1 NEWS


'This is bigger than boxing' – SBW motivated by charity ahead of next fight

All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams says his next jaunt into the boxing ring is all about charity, rather than his reputation within the sport.

Williams, 33, will fight Australian reality TV star Stu 'The Bachelor' Laundy in Sydney on December 1, with all funds raised to go aid homeless in Australia and New Zealand.

Speaking to media in Auckland today, Williams revealed his motivation for the bout.

"This is bigger than boxing," he began.

"I'm just humbled by Stu and Max (Markson, promoter) coming to me and asking if I want to be a part of it.

"Understanding that Bill Crews (of the Exodus Foundation) and the Auckland City Mission have big parts to play in that, that's what we're trying to do and raise funds for."

The All Blacks star will face Stu 'The Bachelor' Laundy on December 1. Source: 1 NEWS