The route from Fiji to Denver doesn’t normally pass through Pennyhill Park, but Semesa Rokoduguni will be glad of the air miles, not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he didn’t think he was going to have.
While his England team-mates were being subjected to Graham Rowntree’s “brutal” fitness and conditioning camp, Rokoduguni was at the five-star Mana Island Resort, among Fiji’s most luxurious hotels, when the call came.
“I’d been there for a couple of days, and was then going back to the village with my family,” he said. He never made it. His agent was on the phone with news that David Strettle’s decision to withdraw from the squad meant a place in England’s 50-man World Cup squad was his.
“My family said, ‘You need to go, you need to get your stuff and go to the plane’. I was very surprised. I didn’t expect a call-up and then I get a phone call to say there is an opportunity to get back in the squad. It had been disappointing to miss out, but to get the phone call was pretty exciting.”
This morning, Rokoduguni was on the plane again, this time to Denver, Colorado, for the next phase of England’s lengthy preparation camp, having survived the first cull that reduced the squad from 50 to 45.
In the end, only 31 will make it. But the manner in which this chance has come has made the Fijian-born winger even more determined to capitalise on it.
“I spoke to the head coach a couple of months ago at the first call-up, when I wasn’t on it, and I said to him, ‘The only thing I can do now is keep fit, keep doing what I’m doing, and keep thinking positive’. ”
The opening match of the tournament, of course, will pit England, the country Rokoduguni has served both on the rugby field and in the armed forces, against Fiji, the land of his birth.
Nemani Nadolo, the Fiji centre, has expressed his support for all Fijians representing other nations at rugby, of whom there are several. Rokoduguni admits there is gentle ribbing from his friends at home, but in general Nadolo’s view is the common one.
“I have a couple of mates playing for Fiji and the vibe is high. They are really looking forward to it. To me, everyone has been very supportive. There has only been positive feedback, although one or two mates questioned me playing for England against Fiji. I told them that it was a massive honour to play for one of the best sides in rugby. They understand it is about what Fijians can do for other countries.”Reuse content