Lima Sopoaga aware he needs to step it up

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 27/06/2014
Lima Sopoaga
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

LINING IT UP: Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga is one new faces named in the 2014 Southland Stags squad.

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Lima Sopoaga is hoping to regain the sort of form which has helped the Highlanders’ improbable climb into the Super Rugby playoff zone tonight.

Sopoaga has been a revelation for the southern franchise after three injury-ravaged seasons in Dunedin, his goal kicking and general playmaking guiding the Highlanders to fifth place on the competition ladder heading into the June test window.

However, an ankle sprain suffered in Africa meant he has struggled in the past two outings against the Crusaders and Reds, both games which saw the Highlanders suffer narrow losses to put their semifinal qualifications in question.

The Highlanders will need him to be near his best if they are to knock over the Chiefs in a game which will have a heavy bearing on both team’s chances of advancing.

‘‘I probably would have liked to have played a bit better, hit the form I had before I got injured,’’ Sopoaga said.

‘‘Hopefully I can find that this weekend against the Chiefs. A lot of people have been giving [Aaron] Cruden a hard time because he’s been a mixed bag, but it does take time. You just have to look at him, eventually he got there. Hopefully I can build and get back to the form I had before I got injured.’’

Games against the Chiefs, Crusaders and Waratahs is far from an easy trot into the post-season but the best thing about the Highlanders’ position is that their fate is their own.

‘‘At the end of the day it’s all up to us. If we want to push for a place in the playoffs then week to week we have to make sure we prepare well and bring our best performance possible and hopefully get a few wins.’’

If the Highlanders are to win tonight, much will depend on the All Black trio of Ben and Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, Sopoaga said.

‘‘Hopefully some of their energy from the England series rubs off on us that haven’t played at test level. Their excitement and skill level should make us play better.’’

Meanwhile, Sopoaga’s decision to transfer from Wellington, the team he’d played for since 2010, to Southland had been a difficult one.

He made his club debut for the Eastern-Northern Barbarians during the June break and enjoyed the experience.

After discussing the move with Stags coach Brad Mooar, Sopoaga has specific goals he wants to achieve.

‘‘Obviously leaving good mates and my family and the city where I was brought up in was a tough decision at the end of the day, but that’s professional rugby and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,’’ he said.

‘‘[Brad and I] had a good chat about things and I just had to have a look at what he was saying and marry that up with what I want to achieve. I want to help the team get into the premiership, that would be the first goal. That’s something that I think the Stags are capable of and hopefully I can be a part of it.’’

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- The Southland Times

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