Confidence in Sopoaga despite tough start

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has confidence in Lima Sopoaga (above) even though the long...
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has confidence in Lima Sopoaga (above) even though the long serving Highlander is struggling a little with the northern hemisphere game. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Lima Sopoaga's English club is confident the former All Black will find his best form - next season.

But it is hardly a surprise he is finding it difficult to make an impact in the top tier in the northern hemisphere.

Sopoaga's struggles have cast the spotlight on New Zealand players battling to live up to reputation in Europe.

But Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said the $1 million-a-year Sopoaga was simply going through a predictable transition.

Sopoaga played for eight seasons with the Highlanders, making more than 90 appearances for the southern franchise. He was a key man when the side won the title in 2015.

Young said injuries to top players such as livewire Springboks fullback Willie le Roux had made Sopoaga's task much more difficult.

"We always knew Lima would take a bit of time to settle in and you have to feel a bit sorry for him because he's been trying to settle with half the team he expected to be around him being unavailable,'' Young told The Rugby Paper.

"That's put more pressure on Lima but we know he's a quality player and we also know that, like most players from the southern hemisphere, you're probably not going to get the best out of them in their first season in England.

"He's shown glimpses and with some of those more experienced, recognised players around him, he's going to grow. They'll take the pressure off and hopefully he'll go from strength-to-strength, which we're confident he will.''

Sopoaga, who has a three-year contract, was yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle in his latest match against Bath.

It is believed Sopoaga was affected by speculation about England internationals Elliot Daly and Nathan Hughes at the Wasps club.

Sopoaga (28 next month) was always going to take a while to find his best form at Wasps.

As a Highlander he was served by the best passing halfback in the world - Aaron Smith - and played half his games under a roof in pristine conditions. An attacking approach and dominant loose forwards were a big aid for Sopoaga then.

In England, the game is way more combative and defence dominates. Teams stand closer together and there are a lot of one-off runners. The ball is not spread quickly or far.

With Sopoaga having played eight seasons in the south it was always going to be a big ask to expect him to be up to speed quickly in a competition which is markedly different from the one where he plied his trade all his career till then.

In the English premiership, Saracens and Exeter are way out in front in the competition while the Wasps side is among a group which is not setting the world on fire but neither is it out of the playoff race yet.

- additional reporting by NZME

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