From the front line to the try line: Twickenham ready to salute Rokoduguni

first_imgBy Mitch PhillipsENGLISH rugby loves to trumpet its links with the military, so the RFU’s marketing men will be beside themselves with the news that Samesa Rokoduguni, a serving soldier, has been called up to the squad for the four November internationals.But anyone thinking that Fijian Lance Corporal Rokoduguni of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards is some sort of symbolic selection has obviously not been paying much attention to the Premiership over the last year or so.The mighty wing was credited with beating more defenders than any other player in the league last season, and more of the same this term has been a major factor in Bath’s flying start to the season.On Wednesday he was rewarded with a place in Stuart Lancaster’s squad for the November internationals against New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia and, with centre Manu Tuilagi injured, the need to include some power in the backline means he could well make his debut against the All Blacks on November 8.That would cap a remarkable transformation for the 27-year-old, who two years ago was playing for fun in the Army having been considered not even good enough to get in his school team at home in Fiji.Everything changed in 2012 when Mike Ford, a former England assistant coach, saw Rokoduguni playing for the Army against his then-club Newcastle.Newcastle were leading 31-0 but three tries from Rokoduguni helped the Army draw the match 31-31, with Ford making sure he was on Bath’s radar soon after when he switched clubs.Once he eventually signed it was a steep learning curve but his pace, his deadly step and ever-increasing power “10kg of pure, lean muscle added” says Ford, soon turned him into a threat at Premiership level.This season he has scored six tries in seven games and Ford is confident he can hold his own at international level.“He is a freestyle, free-spirit rugby player and that’s what makes him exciting,” he said. “The key is to get him doing the same thing for England as he’s doing for Bath.”For Rokoduguni, it is hard to take in just how this has all come about, and so quickly.He was recruited by the Army as a 19-year-old in 2007, following in a family tradition that has his brother and sister also serving the British Army and his father in the Fijian Army.In his first week on duty in Afghanistan, a comrade he was with on patrol had both legs blown off by a mine.“If that had been me, losing both legs and not reaching my full potential, there could have been nothing worse than that,” Rokoduguni told the BBC. “So when I came back from Afghanistan I had a different view of life: make the best use of every chance you have, because that chance might only come round the once.”When one of those chances came along he almost wasted it.After impressing for the Army in a match in Twickenham he received a call from Bath’s Gary Gold but hung up thinking it was a prank.When Rokoduguni was eventually convinced it was for real he went for a trial and eventually signed as a professional in 2012, though he is effectively on loan from the Army and still lives in Army housing.“The plan was to have a career in the Army, support my family back home, get to full corporal or sergeant and go back myself,” he said this week when news of his call-up leaked out.“This was not part of the plan.”last_img

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