All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga has opened up about his mental health struggles since arriving in England to join Wasps.
After guiding the Highlanders to the Vodacom Super Rugby title in 2015, Sopoaga joined Wasps in 2018 as a replacement for fan-favourite Danny Cipriani, who had departed for Gloucester.
However, Sopoaga’s poor form and Wasps’ struggles to find consistency have led to the playmaker being heavily criticised on social media and in the English press – who rated him as the worst signing in the Premiership.
In an interview with RugbyPass, the 29-year-old spoke about how he has struggled to mentally deal with moving to England and the heavy flak he has taken.
‘I probably hated the game for a lot of my first year, to be totally honest,’ Sopoaga told RugbyPass. ‘I definitely had moments where I thought, “I don’t know if I want to continue playing rugby.”
‘My mental health took a pretty big hit. I was naive, in that I didn’t think moving to the other side of the world would have such an effect on home life and on me personally.
‘I just thought I’d come to another country, get a house, get a car, go to training, come home, and enjoy life. You’re trying to work out simple things like which supermarket do I shop at, paying this council tax and this insurance, setting my family up at the doctor. Even in an English-speaking country, that was hard.
‘What made it worse were the club not doing well and me not playing well. It just all snowballed, man. ‘
Positively for Sopoaga, a position switch to fullback due to the rise of Jacob Umaga has seen him find his love for the game again.
‘I like the freedom of playing 15. You end up organising the backline and helping out the 10 a lot. As a 10 myself, I know what Jacob or Jimmy [Gopperth] need from me at the back. I’m a voice, I’m their eyes, I’m their ears.
‘Before lockdown I was really enjoying rugby, it was really fun, and I just want to get back to that. I want to get back to loving my rugby because I’d started to find the joy again.
‘I came over with the wrong mindset in that I just thought, “Sweet, I’m a bona fide rugby player, I know how to play rugby.”
‘I didn’t mentally prepare for the fact that by the time I left Dunedin, I had built these relationships with players over nine years and I expected to walk right in and run a team as I would if I was running it back in Dunedin. That’s where I came unstuck.’
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