National service beckons as Fijian-born Semesa Rokoduguni prepares for England call

The Bath wing could become the first serving soldier to play for the red rose since Tim Rodber
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The Independent Online

Bath's Fijian-born wing Semesa Rokoduguni is in line to make a poignant debut for England against New Zealand in the week of Armistice Day in November, and resume a link with the British Army that has lain dormant for 15 years.

Northampton forward Tim Rodber was the last serving soldier to play rugby for England, as a captain in the Green Howards when he won 44 caps from 1992 to 1999, and he also represented the British & Irish Lions. Next Wednesday, the national team's head coach, Stuart Lancaster, will name up to 40 players in a training squad for the four autumn internationals, and is set to include Rokoduguni, a lance corporal in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who has driven Challenger tanks and been a foot solider on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rokoduguni, 27, played for the second-string England Saxons last season, and a blistering start to the current campaign with his club has made him a contender for one of five back-three places in a trimmed-down senior squad of around 30 to be named a fortnight today, ahead of the glamour Test against the world-champion All Blacks at Twickenham on 8 November. The initial, wider England squad will gather at the team's Surrey base next Sunday for meetings and two days of training during the subsequent week. Harlequins' Marland Yarde may be the highest-profile casualty when the starting team comes to be picked, as Lancaster whittles down a group of aspiring wings also including Jack Nowell of Exeter, Bath's Anthony Watson and Gloucester's Jonny May. There are further QBE International Tests in November against South Africa, Samoa and Australia.

Bath's head coach, Mike Ford, was in charge of Newcastle Falcons with former colleague Gary Gold when they spotted Rokoduguni in a training match against the Army in Portugal in April 2012. When Ford and Gold switched soon afterwards to Bath, they signed "Rocco" on secondment from the Army garrison at Warminster, where he lives with his wife and son. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are a Light Cavalry Regiment with the 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats.

"Rocco was a bit raw two years ago," Ford told The Independent On Sunday, "but he had all the attributes of a decent winger, in terms of speed, and he has put on 10kg of muscle under the care of our strength and conditioning team. He's lean, not an ounce of fat on him, and working in a professional rugby environment every day has accelerated his potential. He'll always be learning in his positional play and he needs to work on his kicking but we prefer to concentrate on his strengths – we don't really want him to kick the ball. He's like granite when he hits people with the ball in hand. "

Josh Lewsey was picked for England while he was training for the Army at Sandhurst, but the former Wasps back never saw active service or played for the Army.

Rokoduguni may be a long shot for Test duty but the target is moving closer. He played in a non-cap England XV against the Barbarians at Twickenham in June this year, and he has scored eight tries in three appearances in the Army-Navy fixture. His current form prompted Gold – now working in Japan – to tweet: "I cannot believe there is a better winger than @rocco3225 who should walk into the England team. "