Sunday, 23 November 2014

In the Boks seat

Over the past week or so, it's been good to get back involved with South Africa-based With the Springboks over in Europe for the end-of-year internationals, I've chipped in with a few exclusives on IRB World Player of the Year nominee Duane Vermeulen and his fellow loose forward Francois Louw. If you admire the Boks and want to know whether more are on their way to England, then these pieces should hopefully be of interest.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Believe the hype - Semesa Rokoduguni could tank the opposition in the Autumn Internationals

For some, he is the “wildcard” in Stuart Lancaster’s squad for the Autumn Internationals.

For others, he “may just be the most destructive wide runner to emerge in English union in years”.

The subject of this speculation? Of course you know already: Semesa Rokoduguni.

The Bath winger seems to be everywhere at the moment – and not just in the sense of him covering every blade of grass whenever he takes to the pitch and gets those fearsome thighs pumping.

The Fijian-born British Army tank driver is rivaling Jose Mourinho for column inches at the moment (well, almost), and the wider media are close to manoeuvering him into position as this Autumn’s poster boy of English rugby.

Which is all fine, except for the fact that Rojkoduguni hasn’t yet played a single minute of rugby for England.

As I write this, there are three different photos of Rokoduguni on the BBC’s Rugby Union homepage. On top of that, pretty much every sports website and newspaper in the land has carried a profile on the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards lance corporal, and Jeremy Guscott has been calling for him to start against the All Blacks a week on Saturday.

So, there is plenty of anticipation about Roko – and no little expectation.

Will he be able to handle it? As I see it, the pressure of playing for England and the media circus that goes with it won’t be an issue. Rokoduguni has taken every aspect of his rapid elevation from Army 7s player to England squad member in his stride.

The question for me is whether Rokoduguni is able to adapt to England’s defensive structure in time. Given the way the England backline was dismantled by New Zealand in the final Test last summer, will Lancaster be brave enough to pitch an EPS squad novice straight in against the All Blacks?

In such circumstances, it might be something of a gamble to start Rokoduguni a week on Saturday. But it might be a greater gamble not to start him.

Rokoduguni got the nod in Lancaster’s squad ahead of Chris Ashton and Christian Wade because of the brutal - but legal - nature of his defensive work. Ashton’s recent try-scoring record is superb and Wade has just as much x-factor in attack as Rokoduguni, but neither can rival the Bath man’s defensive work.

And with Manu Tuilagi missing due to a groin problem, England’s backline could be lacking a certain physical presence without Rokoduguni.

The stage is set for his debut. And while it would be a baptism of All Black fire, Rokoduguni has the composure – and muscle – to handle it.