Sopoaga to experience best of both worlds

by Sam Phillips

When Lima Sopoaga runs out onto Suncorp Stadium with the number 10 on his back come Saturday night, he will have experienced the best of both worlds in 2017.

Sopoaga has served as Beauden Barrett's deputy since 2015 and he turned down a coveted chance to start against Argentina earlier this month so he could stay home for the birth of his first child.

The Highlanders playmaker started in his debut Test, against the Springboks in Johannesburg, but hasn't pulled on the black number 10 jersey since then.

So now, to get that start, an opportunity that he thought may have passed him by, was a thrill Sopoaga struggled to put into words.

"I guess the easy answer is that I'm really excited," he said.

"It's a great opportunity but I don't really think I would be able to articulate with you guys how much it actually means to me."

The birth of his first child, Milla, showed Sopoaga that there are some thing bigger than rugby.

"Some things are bigger than rugby and I would have missed three or four games if I had to, to see my daughter," he said.

"That's how special it was.

Sopoaga has been a constant threat as a finisher for the All Blacks. Photo: Getty Images"To be able to get a start this week I feel very fortunate, lucky and I am looking forward to it."

There are no bigger shoes to fill in world rugby than those of Beauden Barrett's and the responsiblity placed upon Sopoaga is not lost on the man himself.

He is not daunted by the task, though, which is a sign of just how much he has grown after admitting he was fraught with nerves when first finding his feet within the squad.

"The experience I have been able to have through rugby, playing more football and just trying to get comfortable in this environment, in my own skin - not being so nervous all the time," he said.

"I guess that's what happens over time - you learn that you can be yourself here and you start to enjoy actually being an All Black.Sopoaga will take over goal kicking duties on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images"When you first come in here it's quite a daunting task and you're just trying to find your feet.

"Now I feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin."

Sopoaga said that was only natural, given the esteem in which the All Blacks are held across New Zealand.

"I think it's just natural because you're coming into a team that you have always dreamt about playing for," he said.

"You're playing alongside and training alongside guys you grew up watching and idolising on the TV.

"For any young kid coming in, I guess you're just in complete awe and you forget sometimes that you can actually play football as well and that's why you've been picked to play in this team."

Australia hosts New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday October 21, kicking off at 7pm AEST, 8pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Netowrk Ten, Win and RADIO.