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Manu Samoa Coach explains Lima Sopoaga’s delayed arrival in Apia

By Chris Jones.

Relocating his family for a new rugby life in Japan is hampering the attempt of Lima Sopoaga, the former All Blacks fly-half, to launch his international career with Samoa ahead of the upcoming Rugby World Cup in France. The 32-year-old, who won 16 caps for New Zealand between 2015 and 2017, has played for Lyon in the Top 14 these past two seasons.

He and his family are currently waiting in France for their visas to allow them to move to Japan, where Sopoaga has signed for Koto Blue Sharks for next season. This has resulted in him training on his own while the rest of the Samoa squad has been preparing for its pre-World Cup matches, a schedule that began with last weekend’s away win over Japan and continues with this Saturday’s clash versus Fiji in Apia.

Head coach Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua told RugbyPass that this visa issue was the reason why the former Wasps No10 was unable to make his debut for Samoa in their 24-22 win in Japan last weekend and that it would be a race against time if the player was to make it to Apia to take on the Fijians.

Instead, it now looks certain that Sopoaga will make his Samoa debut against Tonga in Apia on August 5, joining fellow former All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Steve Luatua along with ex-Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano in switching countries to play in the World Cup which is kicking off in September in France.

Samoa are in the same pool as England, Argentina, Japan and Chile and their warm-up match schedule will also include facing a Barbarians XV next month in Brive that will be coached by Pat Lam, the Samoan World Cup legend, and Grand Slam champions Ireland in Bayonne.

Mapusua, who saw Leali’ifano kick the winning conversion to defeat 14-man Japan, is excited about adding Sopoaga’s skills to a squad that has won seven of the eight matches under his command and has moved up to the World Rugby No10 ranking for the first time since 2015. However, Samoa now face a Fijiian side that toughed out a home win over Tonga last weekend with star backs Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova making significant contributions along with Albert Tuisue, the Gloucester No 8.

Mapusua said: “Lima is waiting for his visa to relocate to Japan. We were hoping he could be available for this weekend. We have been keeping him involved with training and team meetings via our comms platform and he is training in France. He is training on his own – well, he better be! Lima should be available for the Tonga game.”