All to gain for Lima Sopoaga if he misses World Cup.

There can only be 31 – and Lima Sopoaga unfortunately is tipped as one of the most likely to miss the cut for an All Blacks trip to the World Cup.

It promises to be the most difficult set of decisions that these All Black selectors have had to make in a long time, in announcing which players to take to England and who to leave home. Sopoaga, like other players, could be one of the unlucky men in the country after Sunday nights’ squad announcement but it might also be ‘all to gain for Lima Sopoaga if he misses World Cup’.

Here is my reasoning: Daniel Carter and Beauden Barrett are certainties, but the selection of Colin Slade vs Lima Sopoaga, or potentially taking both, has seen a very diverse discussion amongst New Zealand rugby commentators over the past few weeks.

Sopoaga; the stand out first-five in Super Rugby 2015 certainly puts his hand up for selection plus has claim to one of the most impressive All Black debuts in recent history, and Slade; proven to be capable with the boot for the All Blacks [Brisbane 2014] over several seasons and has the ability to play multiple positions in the backline, so both are vying for the same backline general position in this 2015 Rugby World Cup squad.

If Sopoaga doesn’t make the cut this weekend, he will join a handful of others who will be equally as unlucky. Brad Weber, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo and Andy Ellis might all be asking themselves the same question “why can the All Blacks only take 31?”

Form wise, Sopoaga deserves to go to the World Cup as his kicking stats are above and beyond any other first five in the country. But certainty to perform on the international level, especially at a World Cup where the pressure will be intense, cannot be confirmed by a single solid performance in the black jersey. Sopoaga should have been selected for one of the two matches against the Wallabies in my mind – as a reserve at least.

Sopoaga has been given about the same amount of opportunity to stake his World Cup claim as Beauden Barrett, which is not a lot really. He is a work in progress, but has he impressed enough to be chosen to go to England next month ahead of Barrett or Slade?

Ex All Black Ian Jones said on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown show this week that “the All Blacks need a backup to Daniel Carter who is a specialist first five. Barrett can fill this role despite his ability to play at fullback, however Sopoaga’s kicking stats are far more impressive than Barrett’s.”

Hope for Sopoaga also lies in the case of injury cover; highly likely at Rugby World Cups (as the All Blacks have experienced far too often) and if any of the first-fives were to go down, Sopoaga is the first person the group would want to call on without question.

Another point made by Jones and the panel on the Sky sports analysis show Breakdown is that Sopoaga has a long and successful All Blacks career in front of him. Playing in this years Rugby World Cup will mean a lot to the youngster, no doubt but he should know that come the 2019 tournament barring any injury or monumental drop in form, Sopoaga could well be the incumbent starting number ten.

Sopoaga is riding a wave of popularity with the fans. His impressive debut for the All Blacks showed poise, confidence and he executed skill in all aspects of the game against South Africa. That performance at first-five has seen him looked at as a genuine World Cup contender already. The big question though is “will he be picked?”

Many will be devastated if Sopoaga doesn’t make the cut, but the man himself certainly shouldn’t be. He has all the goods, can be proud of what he has accomplished in 2015 and will be an All Black regular in no time.

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