Soldier Rokoduguni handed England chance by Lancaster

Semesa Rokoduguni
Semesa Rokoduguni
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BARELY two years ago, Fijian Semesa Rokoduguni was playing rugby at an amateur level with the British Army and contemplating just what part of the world he may be deployed in next.

Scarcely could the towering winger, a lance-corporal in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, believe he would now be preparing to potentially represent England against the might of the All Blacks.

Rokoduguni, less than 12 months after making his professional debut for Bath, was yesterday named in Stuart Lancaster’s 33-man squad for the QBE Series, his remarkable life story taking another significant twist.

He will begin training with England on Sunday seven years after arriving in this country having taken up the Army’s offer when they came to his village looking for new recruits.

Rokoduguni, 27, is still serving – he is a tank driver who has completed a tour of Afghanistan – alongside his rugby commitments but it is the latter that has pricked Lancaster’s attention.

With six tries in seven games for Bath this season, the robust wideman has proved a constant menace to Premiership defences, so much so that it seems the England coach will not balk at the prospect of throwing him straight into the action for a debut against New Zealand on November 8.

Rokoduguni, who qualifies on residency grounds, is one of three uncapped players included, the others being Saracens lock George Kruis and Northampton Saints flanker Calum Clark, who started out with Leeds Carnegie.

Lancaster revealed the player’s promotion at the expense of the unfortunate Chris Ashton offers England similar game-breaking ability to Manu Tuilagi, the Leicester Tigers centre who has been left out due to a groin injury.

“We’re keen to get working with him because he’s been outstanding for Bath,” he said.

“When you lose someone like Manu, Roko comes into the equation because of his impact in collisions, his ability to beat defenders and carry the ball over the gainline.

“He’s a finisher as well,” added Lancaster.

Ashton has endured some problems at international level over the last couple of years but his recovery had been coming along well given he came off the bench to score against the All Blacks in the second Test of their summer tour to New Zealand and has started this season well with Saracens enjoying rich form.

However, he is now not deemed as one of the country’s top four wingers with Lancaster including, instead, Rokoduguni, Jack Nowell, Jonny May and Marland Yarde.

Tuilagi’s potential availability for England this autumn, meanwhile, remains opaque; his club insist the injury will prevent him playing any role against New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia after limping off against Ulster on Saturday.

The British Lion was duly omitted yesterday but, tellingly, his name was also missing from the list of injured players not considered for selection showing his country think otherwise.

Bath’s Jonathan Joseph comes in for the meantime raising the number of players from the West Country club to seven.

“The reason we brought Jonathan Joseph into the camp is that Manu won’t be fit for the start of the series, but we have not shut the door,” said Lancaster, who retains Chris Robshaw as captain for the autumn.

“It could take six weeks but we’ll never say never.

“It’s a joint management programme between us and Leicester and between us we have to get it right.

“The most important person in all of this is Manu and we have to make sure we get his rehabilitation right and get him some game time.

“There’s no definitive timeline. It’s not that sort of injury.”

The absence of Tuilagi’s brute strength leaves England again mulling over a midfield conundrum but Lancaster is not without options.

“I wouldn’t say the centres are an area of concern,” Lancaster said.

“Brad Barritt and Kyle Eastmond have both been outstanding and you have Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees there as well.

“There’s plenty of competition. Then there is Jonathan Joseph who is perhaps the form centre of all of them.

“It’s about balance – you want a balance of pace, power and footballing ability.

“We will see them head to head (in training) and we will make our decisions on the combinations.”

High-profile omissions from the 33 are Danny Cipriani and Freddie Burns with Owen Farrell, George Ford and Stephen Myler chosen as the squad’s three fly-halves.

“I wouldn’t say Danny’s gone backwards,” Lancaster said.

“Stephen Myler was very unlucky not to start the first Test against New Zealand in June – he would have done had he not played in the Premiership final.

“Stephen Myler has the best skills execution, has played in big games and deserves his chance,” he said.

“Freddie and Danny have done well in games this season, but we’ve gone for the consistency that Stephen has shown and the attacking prowess of George Ford, while Owen’s inclusion is merited on what he’s done in the past.”