I can't wait for Lima Sopoaga's first All Blacks game. Not just because the Highlanders first five-eighths thoroughly deserves his ascension to the test ranks but because he will likely lay to rest forever one of rugby's most enduring and racism-tinged myths.

You know, how the first-five in any successful New Zealand rugby team should be a white guy because Polynesians, some say, don't have the head for the generalship demanded of a top No 10.

That sort of twaddle is nearly dead but Sopoaga's rise to test status might just kill it completely. The "browning" of rugby has been a hoary, old rugby topic for many years, swirling around selection tables, rugby clubs, bars, online forums and in sitting rooms up and down the country.

Sopoaga, born in Wellington of Samoan and Cook Islands descent, may very well be the first full-blooded Pacific Island first five-eighths to play for the All Blacks and will likely end the debate.


His mature, nerveless display for the Highlanders in the Super Rugby final has increased his chances of national selection, although he had already signalled his advance before he was called into the 41-strong extended All Blacks squad ahead of the test against Samoa.

Sopoaga might get some game time as early as this week against Argentina and it is a moot point whether he'll be one of the 10 released when the squad is trimmed next month. His presence, however, is a sign that his time is nearly nigh.

Not bad for a 24-year-old who, at the start of the season, was ranked sixth in the first-five ranks behind Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor. Now, with Carter set to relinquish his hold on the jersey and Slade and Taylor also heading overseas after the World Cup, Sopoaga is poised to compete with Cruden and Barrett.

His all-round surety catches the eye - a good runner of the ball, his tactical kicking has improved greatly and his goalkicking out of sight. He outplayed Barrett in the Super Rugby final and gave the lie to the old saw implying Polynesian players aren't as smart or play with instinctive flair which sometimes leads to costly mistakes.

These days top rugby players are schooled so efficiently in the arts of offence, defence and team systems that their skills and discipline go way past just running, passing and kicking. But first-five has been the position most often held up by the anti-browning mob as proof Caucasians are needed on the bridge of the ship.

If the dash and verve of the likes of Carlos Spencer and Stephen Bachop - No 10s with Maori and Samoan blood respectively - are offered in rebuttal, the declaimers say their very volatility (brilliant one day, match-losers the next) supports their argument.

It was always a spurious argument, but made possible by the dearth of leading first-fives of Polynesian heritage. Most didn't quite make the 'greats' mantle usually bestowed on the likes of Carter, Grant Fox and Andrew Mehrtens.

Apart from Spencer and Bachop, Mac Herewini, Frano Botica, Luke McAlister are among those with Polynesian blood who have worn the black No 10. There are more on the way, like Sopoaga, Otere Black and Ihaia West. They and others like them will bury the first-five myth already partially interred; the 'browning' debate has already largely dropped off the agenda as fans see intelligent and committed Polynesian players in all positions.

Teams like the Polynesian-heavy Blues and their recent poor record keep some talk alive but it has been five years or so since Andy Haden lit the wick of the candle of outrage with his ill-fated contention the Crusaders were successful because they had an only "three darkies" (his words) selection rule.

Still, race relations in New Zealand sport are, if not perfect, a lot better off than in other countries.

Like the US where presidential candidate, billionaire and the man whose hair proves that massive wealth is not commensurate with good taste, Donald Trump, is defending himself after his remarks about Mexican immigrants. He claimed they are "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc" in many cases.

The PGA of America then moved the Grand Slam of Golf from his course in Los Angeles - ironic when you consider discrimination in previous times from snooty golf clubs against the likes of women, blacks and Jews. However, NBC, Univision and Macy's are among several businesses to cut ties to Trump over his comments.

Put that alongside former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, banned for life from the NBA after telling his then girlfriend not to bring black people to Clippers games, plus a black South African being called the N-word during cycling's Tour of Austria and we seem not so badly off. But, still, can't wait to see Sopoaga do the business from a rugby and social perspective.

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