Selection headache looms for Highlanders coach Tony Brown

Marty Banks' starting job appears to be safe next weekend, but beyond that is a different story.

As good as he's been in leading the Highlanders to a franchise record eight-consecutive wins, the return of six-cap All Black first-five eighth Lima Sopoaga on Saturday night could soon end his golden run. 

Sopoaga, who hadn't played since injuring his hamstring against the Blues on March 11, played 25 minutes off the bench in the Highlanders' 55-6 demolition job of the Western Force in Perth.

Highlanders coach Tony Brown indicated Sopoaga would again come off the pine against the Waratahs in Dunedin on Saturday night, before possibly making a change the following week. 

"We just need to give Lima a bit of time to get back to full fitness," Brown said. 

"That probably looks like him coming off the bench next week as well, and then potentially starting him against the Crusaders."

Sopoaga's first touch - a cross-field kick to wing Tevita Li - almost resulted in a try during his team's biggest ever (49 points) win. 

He had a couple of other nice touches, before finishing the game by missing a conversion the normally reliable Sopoaga would slot eight out of 10 times.  

Brown liked what he saw from his pivot, who just two years ago guided the Highlanders to their maiden Super Rugby title, and it's not hard to picture him handing Sopoaga the No 10 jersey against the unbeaten Crusaders in Christchurch in a fortnight. 

"He was good," Brown said of Sopoaga. "He brings a lot of confidence to our team.

"You saw when he got out there he wanted to pull the trigger on all his skill-set. He threw some nice passes and a couple of great cross-kicks. When he's playing like that, we're a dangerous team.


Photo by: JOE ALLISON/PHOTOSPORT (Lima Sopoaga desperately needs game time to push for All Blacks selection).