Lima Sopoaga believes he will still be a smash-hit at Wasps despite a nightmare first season in which the ex-All Black candidly admits he has made “slow progress”.
As a marquee signing from the Highlanders last summer, the 2015 Super Rugby-winning fly-half had hoped to underpin a challenge for the Premiership title.
Instead, Sopoaga has failed to fire for an injury-hit Wasps outfit who could yet be drawn into the relegation battle with five league games remaining.
Speaking ahead of a midweek Gallagher ‘Train With Your Heroes’ session at Kenilworth RFC, Sopoaga told The Rugby Paper: “It’s been tough, I can’t hide from that and it’s been a real eye-opener for me coming to play footy on this side of the world.
“The style of rugby to what I’m used to has definitely played a part in my slow progress, but I know I can take the learnings on board and be better for these experiences.
“I know that I haven’t been able to showcase the best of myself through this first year, but there’s still plenty in the tank for me to deliver, and deliver well.
“I’ve got five games to go this season to go all out for it and then, with a bit of a break and a good pre-season behind me, I’ll just rip into it next year.”
Sopoaga, 28, has encountered hard times before, adding: “You can’t always judge yourself on wins and losses. It’s all rosy when you’re winning and everyone pats you on the back, but sometimes it’s how you respond to adversity that really counts.
“I’ve been challenged a few times mentally this year but I’m determined to get through it, just as I’ve done before in my career in moments like this.
“I had bad injuries in 2011 and 2012 where my seasons were cut short and doubts raised, and then in 2013 we lost our first eight games at the Highlanders.
“I’ve seen worse times and know what it’s like to be at the bottom, but I was also blessed to see the top of the mountain when we won Super Rugby.
“You just never know what difference a year can make and while this one hasn’t been the best, I’m still determined to be a big leader for this club.”
Assuming relegation is avoided, Wasps will be boosted next season by the arrival of destructive former Highlanders and New Zealand midfielder Malakai Fekitoa.
“He’s a real weapon, not only with his physical attributes but with his communication, which was pretty special between us before,” says Sopoaga.
“We ended up making a fine combination at ten and 13 and we definitely work well off each other. We’ve got Jeff Toomaga-Allen coming as well, who’s a top scrummager from the Hurricanes, so that’s something Wasps fans should relish as well.”
Wasps are struggling to make the top six and with Sopoaga set to return from a hand injury, this Saturday’s clash with Worcester is a must-win.
Sopoaga added: “It’s unbelievably tight from fifth place down and we’ll have to fight tooth and nail in every game now if we’re to make that top six.”
Lima Sopoaga was speaking at a ‘Train with your Heroes’ session at Kenilworth RFC after the ladies side won a nationwide competition launched by Gallagher, proud title partner of Premiership Rugby.
NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Getty Images
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