Semesa Roko­duguni

The Bath wing has bet­ter foot­work than Fred As­taire and a scor­ing record to match

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

IG JOE COKANASIGA has gained many ad­mir­ers since join­ing Bath last sum­mer, but cult sta­tus takes a lit­tle longer to ac­quire. Semesa Roko­duguni, an­other Fiji-born son of an Army man at the Rec but ten years Joe’s se­nior, in­spires awe on a dif­fer­ent level.

If Alex Goode’s Eng­land snub pro­vokes be­wil­der­ment, Roko­duguni’s omis­sions down the years have been close be­hind. Four Test caps do scant jus­tice to a player whom Ge­orge Ford once called the best fin­isher he’s ever played with.

At 31, Roko­duguni will prob­a­bly have to be con­tent with club rugby from now on, so pity all those Premier­ship de­fend­ers. As Christ­mas ap­proached, he had scored 48 tries in 100 league games, a stag­ger­ing ra­tio given Bath’s er­ratic form in his six years at the club.

He is a mas­ter of the in­ter­cep­tion, a skill in it­self, but many of his tries in­volve bril­liant foot­work and the sort of strength in con­tact we used to as­so­ciate with Rory Un­der­wood.

Check out some of his tries on video and you see him con­fronted by two de­fend­ers. ‘How does he score this?’ you think. An­drea Masi prob­a­bly thought the same thing when Roko eluded him in a 5m chan­nel with such fleet-footed flu­id­ity that the then Wasps full-back wasn’t even close to lay­ing a hand on him. It’s still my favourite sidestep ever.

B“His abil­ity to beat peo­ple in no space at all is re­mark­able,” says Stu­art Hooper, Bath’s gen­eral man­ager. “Some of the fin­ishes he comes up with, the way he squirms his way over, are in­cred­i­ble.

“He’s also in­cred­i­bly strong and his aware­ness of his own body is amaz­ing. He can tightrope his way down the line, then step in­side and do real dam­age.”

Nei­ther is the work of ‘RokoHou­dini’ off the ball to be sniffed at, and it’s per­haps only the odd missed tackle that has pre­vented him be­com­ing a na­tional icon.

The wing first pitched up in Eng­land as a teenage Army re­cruit, wear­ing fleeces in the Bri­tish sum­mer, and re­mained off the radar of Premier­ship clubs for sev­eral years.

Dorset club Lytch­ett Min­ster were first to ben­e­fit from his tal­ents – “You could hear the sound of his tack­les from the touch­line,” a coach there re­called – but his rugby ex­ploits for the Bri­tish

Army meant it was just a mat­ter of time be­fore he was snapped up. Bath got there first but it was a race they were al­ways likely to win be­cause of their prox­im­ity to his Army base in Warmin­ster. Roko­duguni re­mains a serv­ing soldier, with the Royal Scots Dra­goon Guards, and has two pay­mas­ters. “He still has to go on Army train­ing ex­er­cises,” Hooper says.

Wife An­nie and son Eli­jah are at ev­ery home game and the fam­ily has been warmly em­braced by the com­mu­nity, the lo­cal churches in par­tic­u­lar.

If his Eng­land ca­reer is in­deed be­hind him, you won’t walk ten yards along the Avon be­fore bump­ing into some­one af­fronted by that. What is Hooper’s take?

“Coaches have had dif­fer­ent rea­sons for not pick­ing him for Eng­land but the thing with Roko is to re­mem­ber why you would pick him, as op­posed to not pick him. In my opin­ion there’s a huge weight in favour of why you would pick him.”

Roko him­self is far too po­lite to feel cheated and keeps some pa­ter­nal ad­vice close to heart. As a lad in Fiji, he ad­mired the medals on his fa­ther’s mil­i­tary uni­form and once asked if he could wear them. “No,” came the re­ply. “You don’t get given stuff like this, you must earn it.”

He’ll keep driv­ing on, try­ing to im­prove for the team’s bet­ter­ment and earn­ing ever more re­spect from his team-mates.

“As a rugby player he’s a gen­uine match-win­ner,” con­cludes Hooper. “But the main thing about Roko is that as a per­son he hasn’t changed. He’s a kind-hearted fam­ily man, a tremen­dous hu­man be­ing.” With magic in his feet.

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