Rokocoko thankful for another shot
July 22, 2009
Winger Joe Rokocoko © Getty Images
New Zealand winger Joe Rokocoko intends to repay Graham Henry for the faith the coach has shown in him with an eye-catching display against South Africa on Saturday.
The All Blacks selectors have handed the Rokocoko another international lifeline despite some indifferent form in this year's Super 14 that continued to plague his game against France and Italy last month. But the Fijian-born speedster is determined to light up his side's latest clash with their old enemy after getting the nod ahead of Cory Jane.
Jane chased and fielded kicks sweetly in difficult conditions during last Saturday's 22-16 defeat of Australia in Auckland. However, Henry's gut instinct told him that veteran Rokocoko is on the verge of finding his best form.
"Joe's form this year hasn't been great. He's trained well over the last couple of weeks and I think he's ready to go," Henry said. "He's got a lot of pride in his ability to play the game. He's played 50-odd test matches for New Zealand and I'm sure he wants to prove himself again."
South Africa has been a happy hunting ground for the 26-year-old, who thrives on a hard surface, and he is hoping to get amongst the tries again.
"Wayne Smith (assistant coach) was reminding me how good the track is and that it is the ideal place to play running rugby for the wingers," Rokocoko said. "The backs the Boks have had over the last few years have shown that as well. JP Pietersen and Habana have shown that when they play at home they are something else."
Asked to explain his mixed form, Rokocoko reckoned he had found a solution.
"I guess I have been too stressed out and worrying about my performance too much and expectations have got ahead of myself," he said. "I have just taken away that load and concentrated on my daily training, not the weekend. I have been conscious of getting my confidence up and making sure I am fresh for the weekend."
Rokocoko has spent time this week with fellow winger and second cousin Sitiveni Sivivatu, going over technical and tactical issues, while fullback Mils Muliaina has been a positive sounding board. Both provided invaluable support but in different ways.
"Siti's been outstanding the last few years and I'm still learning off him. Most people don't rate him the way he should be rated, as one of the best wingers in the world. The way he reads play, the way he gets involved," he said.
"And going into the game Mils will just think positive things and what makes him happy in life in general. Next thing, he goes into the game with a clear head and plays his best."
The back three's combined test caps of 162 is an All Blacks Test record, eclipsing the 156 shared by Muliaina, Rokocoko and Doug Howlett against Australia at Auckland two years ago.
Rokocoko also stands on the verge of a couple of Test tryscoring world records. He has scored 26 tries away from home, one short of two other prolific wingers - former team mate Doug Howlett and Australian great David Campese.
Rokocoko's nine tries against South Africa is one short of the world record for any player against any nation - currently the 10 scored by former New Zealand fullback Christian Cullen against the Springboks. Rokocoko and Cullen have both scored five tries against the Boks in South Africa, sharing the world record.
However, Rokocoko said moving ahead of one of the game's great attackers wasn't a priority.
"Not really. Getting into the starting 15 was the main aim," he said. "You won't get near that (record) if you don't even start."
Most Test tries scored away from home:
Top tryscorers against leading nations:
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown
John Griffiths takes an analytical look at Week 3 of ESPN Scrum's Fantasy Rugby game - who should you have picked?
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards