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'It has left a sour taste': Lima Sopoaga hits out at changes in Samoa

By Liam Heagney
Lima Sopoaga celebrates during Samoa's World Cup game versus England (Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

Lima Sopoaga doesn’t know if his rekindled Test rugby career will continue in 2024 following the recent sacking of Seilala Mapusua, the Samoa coach for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Samoan officials told Mapusua earlier this year that he wouldn’t be kept on and the position has since been given to Mahonri Schwalger.

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It’s a development that hasn’t pleased the 33-year-old Sopoaga, the 16-cap former All Blacks player who qualified through his ancestry to play for Samoa following a three-year stand-down period.

Mapusua paid the price for the team winning just one of its four matches at France 2023, beating Chile but losing to Argentina, Japan, and England.

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Based in Japan with Shimizu Koto Blue Sharks, who have secured promotion to the second division for next season, Sopoaga, who was player of the match against the English in Lille, has now outlined his dissatisfaction with what has unfolded with the Samoans since the finals.

Aside from the firing of Mapusua, he alluded to other things allegedly going on in the background that had left a sour taste in the mouth ahead of a Test season featuring the newly structured Pacific Nations Cup which will culminate with the tournament’s two final weekends taking place in Japan in September.

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Asked by RugbyPass if he would be playing Test rugby later this year, Sopoaga said: “I’m not too sure, to be honest. Obviously, the coach being fired.

“There’s been a few disappointing things happen that people sort of don’t know about behind the scenes that have really angered a lot of the boys from the World Cup and it’s kind of typical of sort of island rugby set-ups, I guess.

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“Things, stories that would have heard in the past still going on in the background so it has left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m not too sure if I can put my hand up and it’s not because I don’t want to, but sort of the powers that be or those running Samoa are sort of rotten to the core and corrupt. We’ll see how it all plays out.

“There has been some ongoing chat, quite a few group chats but like I said there have been a few off-field things that have sort of affected that and it will be interesting to see who puts their hands up now going forward.”

Sopoaga’s current feelings are in sharp contrast to his memories of the World Cup itself. “It was truly humbling and special, things I was able to learn on that tour and connect with was something that I will never, ever forget.

“Although we never got the results we would have liked, I do think Samoa rugby was on a good trajectory after that campaign.

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“It’s not easy playing these tier-one nations with big budgets and things like that but we gave it a good crack and gave it a good shake and we were a bounce of a ball here or a drop goal there away from winning a few important games and going through to a quarter-final, but that’s just the way footy goes.”

Aside from Samoa, Sopoaga, in an exclusive soon-to-be-published interview with RugbyPass, also talked at length about his new life in Japan after five years in Europe, his reflections on his All Blacks career, what he makes of Super Rugby in its current guise, and the steps he is taking for a new career after he finishes up playing.

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