Sopoaga gets his points across for record feat

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2014
Malakai Fekitoa
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Malakai Fekitoa's first-half try got the Highlanders back in the match after trailing 13-3 early.
Lima Sopoaga
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
RECORD BREAKER: Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.

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In all the excitement of the Highlanders' vital 29-25 win over the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday, Lima Sopoaga's record-breaking feats almost went unremarked.

Even Sopoaga and the man whose record he broke were unaware until being told about it by the media.

"For me, the season has been just about staying on the park and trying to rectify a few things from last season," Sopoaga said.

"I'd rather have the win than any points-scoring record."

Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown, who previously held the mark with 150 points - from the same number of games - in 2000 was about as disinterested as anyone can be that the mark had been broken.

"Lima's had a great season and deserves to break the record. We've got a few games left so hopefully, he can add a few more points to it."

Having a consistent goal-kicker has been one of the reasons for the Highlanders' resurgence this year, said Brown, whose record of 857 points for the franchise will stand for a long time.

Sopoaga is averaging 13 points a game.

"Both Lima and Quasi [Hayden Parker] have kicked accurately this year. I'm pretty sure they are well over 85 per cent, which is as good as anyone in Super Rugby."

Sopoaga, who managed to string together only 28 games in his first three seasons, has now played 12 of the Highlanders' 14 games this season.

After two rocky performances in his comeback from an ankle injury, Sopoaga was much more assured against the Chiefs.

"I think I did my job as best as I could. I missed touch once, but I didn't let that compound and I did the things the coaches asked of me during the week so I'm pretty happy with that." Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said Sopoaga's goal kicking could not be underestimated.

"Consistent goal-kicking has been a real growth for us.

"What it does is it keeps you in the game. It allows you to chase a game, or put a lot of pressure on a team and makes them take more risks."

Goal kicking aside, it was the Highlanders' second try against the Chiefs that opposition teams will go back to this week.

A Brayden Mitchell turnover inside the Highlanders 22m would have been a good option to kick in such a tight game with the scores tied at 20-20.

Instead the ball was passed wide to a rampaging Malakai Fekitoa who fed Richard Buckman.

Buckman's last pass to Ben Smith was perfectly delayed and the result was a game-deciding try but the vision, the decision-making and the belief on display in that one movement bode well for the Highlanders during the next fortnight. The Highlanders' eighth win of the season lifted them to second in the New Zealand conference on points differential behind the Crusaders, and fourth overall.

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One more win from their remaining games, against the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday, or the Crusaders in Christchurch the following week, would be enough to book them a spot in the post-season for the first time since 2002.

 

Highlanders season points record: 157* Lima Sopoaga (2014) 150 Tony Brown (2000) 142 Willie Walker (2003) 141 Tony Brown (2002) 122 Tony Brown (2001) 111 Israel Dagg (2010) 108 Tony Brown (1999) 107 Ben Blair (2005, 2006) 104 Tony Brown (2004) 91 Simon Culhane (1998)

- The Southland Times

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