Lima Sopoaga signs deal in big coup for Stags

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
Lima Sopoaga
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
LIMA SOPAGA: "I'm looking forward to getting to Southland and giving my all for my new team."

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Highlanders first-five Lima Sopoaga will be a Southland Stag for the next two seasons.

The former New Zealand under-20 representative has played 37 games for Wellington since 2010 and has played his Super Rugby for the Highlanders since 2011.

After a run of serious injuries that had limited his progress at the Highlanders, Sopoaga has turned in his best season at Super Rugby level this year and represents a major coup for the Stags and new coach Brad Mooar.

Sopoaga's influence at the Highlanders extended beyond what happened on television and Mooar hopes that continues with Southland.

"He leads a lot of their programme around their game plan and with the backs. He's had four years in Super Rugby and is very experienced and we've got young, developing 10s and a reasonably inexperienced backline. It's going to be great for everyone's development, it's really crucial for us that he's a leader."

First-five had become a problem position for the Stags after Marty McKenzie's departure for Taranaki and Robbie Robinson's ongoing injury concerns.

Scott Eade is increasingly seen as a halfback at the next level and will play there for the Highlanders in a friendly against the NZ Barbarians, in Invercargill, on June 20. Sopoaga's arrival should free Eade to concentrate on developing himself at No 9.

Mooar said Sopoaga's signature had come after significant negotiations between the two parties. "It was about showing him where we are at and proving it's a viable option from a rugby point of view."

Sopoaga was excited about the change.

"The opportunity came up and it is a good fit to stay in the Highlanders franchise and represent the region in the Super 15 and ITM Cup.

"The Stags boys in the Highlanders have nothing but good things to say about the Stags and the Southland province and I'm looking forward to getting to Southland and giving my all for my new team."

Meanwhile, injured Southland Super Rugby players Josh Bekhuis (ankle) and John Hardie (knee) are on the mend.

The Highlanders pair were both injured playing against the Lions on May 10. Hardie is ready to play club rugby, while Bekhuis has targeted the Barbarians game.

In sub-union action on Thursday night, Central beat Northern 19-13 in Mossburn, while Eastern beat Western in Riverton.

Central will take on Eastern for the Sports Trust Cup in Drummond at 3pm on Monday, with Northern and Western playing the curtainraiser from 1.30pm.

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- The Southland Times

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