So’oialo finally follows family line in Wellington

So’oialo to make NPC debut

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014
PIVOTAL: James So’oialo has finally achieved his goal of breaking into the Wellington Lions and following a family tradition.
Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ
PIVOTAL: James So’oialo has finally achieved his goal of breaking into the Wellington Lions and following a family tradition.

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James So'oialo's path to the Wellington representative side has been anything but orthodox.

The 25-year-old will make his national provincial championship debut against Northland in Whangarei on Saturday, but to describe the first five-eighth as green would be a misnomer.

So'oialo has achieved most of his goals since leaving Mana College as a promising teenager and joining the then dominant Northern United club in 2009.

A Jubilee Cup title followed in 2010, his first test cap for Samoa a year later, in a season that would take in the Rugby World Cup and a professional contract with Castres in the French Top 14.

When So'oialo returned early from Connacht in Ireland last year for personal reasons he led Tawa to the club's first Jubilee Cup, but still the door to the Lions remained firmly closed.

Until now.

''I got called up to the squad a few years ago, but never got a cap, so last week when Boydy [Wellington coach Chris Boyd] gave me the opportunity to jump on the field against Waikato it was a great moment,'' he said yesterday after being named to start at first five-eighth against Northland in Whangarei on Saturday.

A late call up to the provincial squad after a spate of injuries, it meant a lot to So'oialo to follow his two older brothers, former Samoan test halfback Steve and former All Black captain Rodney, into the annuls of Wellington rugby.

It was something he thought might never happen when he decided to pitch his tent with Samoa in 2011.

''I chose to play for Samoa in 2011 to go to the World Cup and I wondered if that could be a reason why I wouldn't be able to ever get back into the Lions,'' he said.

''I've gone overseas and played a few years over there, but I've always wanted to play for the Lions and tick off that goal of mine.''

After two stints in France with Castres and Pays d'Aix So'oialo's unexpected early return from Ireland to be closer to his three young children, aged four, five and six, late last year may prove a godsend for Wellington's hopes in 2014.

After the loss to injury of Riki Flutey and Fa'atonu Fili's false start against Waikato last week, Boyd admits he's still searching for the man to guide his young side around the park.

''There are two parts of the game we are looking for from our 10,'' Boyd said. ''One is his personal game and the other is his game organisation.

''It'd be fair to say we are still in an experimental stage in that space and we're hoping James can deliver a performance in both of those areas.''

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Boyd hasn't left anything to the imagination in detailing how he'd like So'oialo to play in Whangarei, where he forms a new halves combination with Frae Wilson.

''I think for us it's all about clarity. We are operating two or three systems in attack and a similar number in defence so we just need clarity from our game driver's around making sure everyone is connected and doing the same thing.

''Our attack play was too deep and too lateral last week and that's one of the things we need to address. We also went into contact about 10 times when we had a player unmarked outside, so we need to be flatter and move the ball to space better.''

If So'oialo can achieve those goals, his first start may not be his last.

As well as calling up So'oialo, Boyd has also whistled up Oriental Rongotai blindside Pau Halafihi, who has forced his way into the team on the back of a strong showing for the Wellington City selection last weekend.

Meanwhile, Northland coach Derren Witcombe has made just two changes to the team that started during a first up 28-23 loss to Manawatu.

Namatahi Waa comes in at loose head prop for Ross Wright, while Winston Stanley replaces Brook Gilmore at centre.

Teams

Wellington: Jason Woodward, Ambrose Curtis, Ope Peleseuma, Shaun Treeby, Tau Mamea, James So'oialo, Frae Wilson, Brad Shields (c), Adam Hill, Pau Halafihi, Vaea Fifita, Kaipati Gaualofa, Eric Sione, Motu Matu'u, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Tolu Fahamokioa, Taniela Koroi, James Wall, Henry Stowers, Sheridan Rangihuna, Fa'atonu Fili, Chase Tiatia.

Northland: Mathew Wright, Filipo Nakosi, Winston Stanley, Troy Gilbert, Jone Macilai, Dan Hawkins, Tane Takulua, Cam Eyre (c), Jack Ram, Dan Pryor, Tom Murday, Shane Neville, Matt Talaese, Matt Moulds, Namatahi Waa. Reserves: Ross Wright, Will Griff-John, Michael Stolberg, Kara Pryor, Kurt Davies, Latuime Fosita, Brook Gilmore.

- The Dominion Post

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