Eddie & Rokoduguni – A Turbulent Relationship?
To say that Semesa Rokoduguni has had an impact on the Premiership since joining Bath in the 2012/13 season would be an understatement! At the end of last season, he topped the charts for defenders beaten and metres gained – and not surprisingly, he was Bath’s top try scorer, crossing the line ten times.
He is without a doubt one of the most potent finishers in the league, and has a rare natural ability to conjure something out of nothing. The first of his two match-winning tries against Saracens last Saturday were evidence of that talent. To sidestep and break through the Saracens defence from the position he was in, with the number of defenders in front of him was pure genius.
I’m not sure how many other players in the league could do that, save for perhaps Christian Wade. Yet this wasn’t just a one off fluke, as time and time again last season he managed to finish from the tightest of angles – his scores against Northampton at The Rec, away against Newcastle and another match winning try at Sandy Park immediately spring to mind.
This couldn’t go unnoticed, and after dropping in and out of various England training squads, Eddie Jones gave Rokoduguni a start last November against his native Fiji, where he won his second cap. Never one to miss an opportunity, he scored two tries and delivered a ‘man of the match’ performance. Anyone would presume that he’d be a sure bet to start the following weekend against Argentina – it clearly wasn’t enough in Eddie’s eyes, as he didn’t even make the bench!
However, this isn’t the first time he has been subjected to such harsh treatment by the England senior team. Stuart Lancaster gave the soldier his first cap against New Zealand in 2014, only to be dropped the following week for no apparent reason.
Repeated knock backs like this would dent anyone’s confidence, but the Fijian flyer still continues to deliver the goods week in week out for his club. Therefore this leaves many scratching their heads, not least the Bath faithful who just can’t work out what Eddie has against their beloved ‘Roko’.
Well we have been given some insight at least by the England head coach. There’s no doubt his attack is international class and he’s superb in the air, but his defence is the one thing that Jones has continually asked him to work on. He’s certainly a very strong, powerful man and I can’t say I ever see him missing tackles, however it’s his defensive positioning that lets him down – it’s been highlighted that he lacks ‘game reading’ skills.
Occasionally his positioning is off, a weakness that top international sides will easily identify, leaving the Bath try-line open. Any good tactical-kicking 9 or 10 would play the corners, forcing him to turn and work his way out of tight spots. This is where Rokoduguni’s lack of kicking ability would be exposed, how often do you see him put boot to ball?
The current crop of first choice wingers such as Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly, draw upon their experience at full back which inevitably means they have a much stronger kicking game.
The same can be said for Christian Wade, who again is a lethal try scorer but his weaker defence and rarely used boot means that like Roko, he is often overlooked by the national side. How you might ask, did Denny Solomona get picked above them both for this year’s Argentina tour? There’s no doubting the Sale winger’s attacking ability, but is he any better defensively, considering he only moved over from Rugby League last season and is still learning the union code!?
Rokoduguni isn’t short of competition either, as the England wing cupboard certainly isn’t bare! His Bath team mate Anthony Watson is in top form and is able to play across the back three – he put in some great touch finders from deep in his 22 at the weekend; surely it’s a matter of time before he pushes Mike Brown out of the 15 shirt? Jonny May is clearly a favourite of Eddie’s as one of the fastest wings around, but again I would question how good he is defensively?
It’s been a long time since Matt Banahan last pulled on a white jersey, but there hasn’t been a more consistent all-round winger in the league over the past few seasons; I dare say his time has now passed, however ‘Banners’ keeps getting better in my opinion.
Let’s not rule out the up and coming wingers and perhaps some that often get overlooked. Watson’s brother Marcus has continued to display his sheer pace and deadly side step that made him a sevens star, and is now plying his trade in an already dangerous Wasps backline. Wasps also have another promising young winger in Josh Bassett who had a breakthrough season last year. Marland Yarde still can’t be ignored, and what about the exciting prospects Nathan Earle at Saracens and Alex Lewington at London Irish?
At 31 years of age, Rokoduguni certainly doesn’t have much time left to nail down an England wing berth. If he consistently puts in a strong performance, as he did last Saturday against the European champions, then how much longer can Eddie Jones can keep him out of his starting line up?