Tests before the Tests for Rokoduguni

Date published: October 23 2014

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has remained true to his message of consistency regarding every aspect of team management.

With head coach Stuart Lancaster naming his chosen 33 to represent England in the forthcoming month, injuries and selectorial pragmatism ensured few surprises as he remains true to his message of consistency in every aspect of team management.

Lancaster admitted last week that 80 percent of his likely World Cup squad is already pretty much inked in and the November Tests will allow clarification of his options rather than wholesale redirection.

However, the England coach was delighted to announce the inclusion of Bath’s big Fijian wing, Samesa Rokoduguni, a man who has electrified the Premiership this season with his ability to win collisions, break lines and find gaps in the opposing defence.

“People are forgetting that Roko has been around the squad since the Barbarians game last June,” affirmed Lancaster.

“We’re aware of his skillset and are excited to include him. But this isn’t a done deal in terms of Test selection and being included in an Elite Squad is a big step for him. It’s now crucial that we measure his ability to adapt and react to the systems we have in place in the squad. I’ve not worked with him in depth before and we will be looking to see how confident he is in terms of fitting into defensive and attacking systems and also, crucially, how confident the senior players are in that adaptation process.”

Interestingly, Rokoduguni has been fighting for his nation for the last six years. A soldier in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, he’s seen both active service and front line action overseas, experiences not lost upon Lancaster.

“Yes, it’s ironic that he’s already represented his country, but perhaps in a different arena,” he laughed.

“In truth, it’s great to see a player coming in from a different route and a route that has teamship and discipline as core values. I guess you could say this is the start of his home career! However, we mustn’t lose sight, that for all the bravery of combat, Semesa still needs to earn his right to be in our squad as a player alone, something he has already begun to do.”

Looking in detail of Rokoduguni’s game, it’s evident he has a great power to weight ratio, able to take the ball into the line and step into the gaps. In a similar vein to Jason Robinson, the Fijian’s killer weapon is acceleration rather than outright pace, but perhaps with a more direct approach than the jinking feet of Robinson.

Add into the mix a great fend or hand off that will encourage defenders to go low, thus crucially allowing the wing the option of free arms to offload and it’s clear that Rokoduguni has the ability to trouble even the best defences.

Lancaster is rightly impressed with these skills but underlines the need for a rounded and complete game.

“We’re very clear on how we measure players these days,” he added.

“We have objective tests; that’s about completion of measurable skill sets such as tackle effectiveness, gainline success, ruck success, offloads, line breaks. Then we have subjective tests, which are maybe more esoteric; leadership, defensive alignment, gas, power. All of these things, whether measureable or not, contribute to the whole picture of the player we are developing and it also allows us to feedback areas for improvement and change.

“In Roko’s case, we need to see how he absorbs the culture and how he learns the systems. We are not saying he’ll be picked to play in the first test but we don’t rule it out either, depending on how he progresses in terms of learning the systems and methods as I have stressed earlier.

“The key thing is, we’ve no doubt about the talent and raw ability; it’s up to us as coaches now to harness that for the future.”

by James While