Rokocoko reinvents winger's art

Joe Rokocoko is the living embodiment of the Pacific islands rugby nations' problem.

The 21-year-old, already the No 1 wing in world rugby, is Fijian born. But like thousands of others whose families joined the great island diaspora across the South Pacific, Rokocoko was lost to Fijian rugby. To pursue a life of greater opportunity, his family travelled south and settled in New Zealand. Thus, Rokocoko, like his Fijian counterpart, the Australian wing Lote Tuqiri, is a talent lost to the islanders' rugby. He will be a key member of the All Blacks side who face Australia in Sydney on Saturday, determined to extend their lead at the top of the Tri-Nations standings.

The riches that might have been available to Fiji are mouth-watering. Rokocoko and Tuqiri in one back line? Fijian-raised, they departed, like countless others. And Rokocoko makes no excuses for it.

"The All Blacks have real history and tradition and for your cousin or uncle to be in the team is huge in Fiji. They do not criticise you for playing for the All Blacks as long as you remember your roots."

When Rokocoko was first chosen for the All Blacks, huge parties were staged in Fiji near his old Nadi home. Yet he had left the island as a five-year-old. Even so, youngsters in the island still follow his career avidly, regarding him as a hero. But, taking a wider view, it will always be difficult to develop the game in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga given that scenario.

Wings used to be a threat solely on their feet. But Rokocoko has added an entirely new dimension to wing play in the modern game. When he is not racing at defences on the ground, his 6ft 2in 16st 8lb frame bristling with aggression and power, he is soaring in pursuit of the high, hanging cross-kick. With the physically imposing Rokocoko in pursuit, the ball hangs like a death sentence over most wings in the game.

His try-scoring exploits have already put him into rugby's record books. His recent hat-trick of tries against England, his third hat-trick in Test rugby, helped him become the fastest player in history to score 20 Test tries (in just 14 international matches). Before that, his flying heels had propelled him to an astonishing 27 tries in six international Sevens tournaments for New Zealand. This man's rugby shirt ought to carry an embossed health warning for opponents.

As for the All Black shirt, reverence colours Rokocoko's words. How does he define this aura, this unique tradition of wearing the black shirt of New Zealand? After all, they will have gone 20 years without winning the World Cup, by the time of the next tournament.

"To wear the All Black jersey is the ultimate. But the jersey won't do the job for you. It is what you are going to do for the jersey. Give your all for that jersey for the whole 80 minutes. You just want to make a name for yourself of being a great All Black. That is every New Zealander's ambition; every player would say the same. When they hand you that black jersey, you are aware it is something really special. Next to your family, it is the most important thing in your life. It is because of what has gone before. That tradition has been carried a long time. It is understood by every boy in this country."

Rokocoko is a rare talent. His finishing is simply lethal, as effective as a searing hot poker through paper.

But young rugby players have to grow up quickly nowadays, and Rokocoko has already travelled a long journey, in more senses than one. Against a backdrop of rugby union's at times gaudy version of professionalism, young men like him have to handle a lot more than just assailants on the field. Physically, of course, the All Black is no shrinking violet: giant thighs and long legs stretch from the seat beside me, and his neck would have found favour among front row men in old-time rugby's amateur days.

But not even physical might can prevent the hurt some cause. "It upsets me sometimes when I read things about me that are not true. It is your personal life and while people have the right to focus on you, you should be able to expect honesty from them."

But the growing-up process is rapid. Mega-deals are floated enticingly before these young men, like rather good aromas from the kitchen. The All Black's Fijian counterpart, the hugely exciting wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca, will play for French club Agen next season, not because he has a penchant for that region's foie gras but for a bucket load of euros. Might Rokocoko be similarly tempted?

"I can't imagine going abroad. Of course, it is a temptation for a player but I am not going anywhere. Those deals are for others, such as those coming to retirement, not guys like myself. Just being an All Black means too much to walk away from it."

Conversely, he avows his greatest pleasure is to create scoring chances for others, a trait in a wing about as likely as hen's teeth. It is a better feeling, he says, because "it feels like you have had more input into the team, than if you just run in the tries yourself. Otherwise, you keep the goal of scoring yourself in your mind, not thinking first of the team. That is wrong." A different young man in every sense.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss