England's answer to Jonah Lomu, Joe Cokanasiga has all the tools to give them their X factor at the World Cup

The sight of the Fijian-born wing tearing up Twickenham could not help but trigger memories of the late, great All Black

Jack de Menezes@JackdeMenezes
Sunday 25 November 2018 12:58
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Eddie Jones praises England side after win over Australia

When Eddie Jones made special mention of Ben Moon and Mark Wilson after an autumn campaign that can only go down as a success, it was out of both pleasure with seeing how they have come into the side in the absence of the established Vunipola brothers and courtesy, in the knowledge that if Mako and Billy are fit come September, they will lead the Rugby World Cup campaign.

But his praise of Joe Cokanasiga was different, perhaps due to his delight at finding a little bit of X-factor that he has been looking out for.

Cokanasiga only turned 21 years old 10 days ago, has just 29 club appearances to his name and made only his second international appearance against Australia, but on Saturday it felt like a star was born. The Bath protégé starred in a try-scoring debut last weekend, but that was against Japan and without disrespecting the Brave Blossoms, making an impact against the Wallabies carries significantly more weight - especially when it’s done like Cokanasiga did it.

In many ways, it was impressive that his shining moments came after one he will want to forget. Coming off his wing for on a crash ball, the Fijian flyer ran straight into a brick wall in the shape of Adam Coleman that sent him flailing in the wrong direction. But to his credit, he kept coming and coming and eventually the rewards came his way.

His try was a display of brute strength by bouncing off Dane Haylett-Petty with a shuddering thud, although a lot of that was down to the Aussie wing getting his head on the wrong side, but it was the try that never was which told us a lot more about what the future holds for him.

Cokanasiga’s size and physicality is what makes him stand out, and getting his hulking 19-stone frame into orbit takes some doing. Yet the sight of him flying through the air, over the head of Bernard Foley to rampage towards the try line, brought Twickenham to its feet. It was only his decision-making that let him down and cost him a second try as he went full Jonah Lomu in attempting to truck over Haylett-Petty, who did an excellent job in stopping him and allowed Michael Hooper to get back in time to save the try.

“People are saying I should have passed it but I just backed myself to get there. I thought I was over,” Cokanasiga said afterwards, although with Henry Slade outside him and also plenty of space to run away from Haylett-Petty, he should have ensured he was over the line. But he will learn, as his coach knows.

“He’s just starting, mate,” enthused Jones. “He’s still got his training pants on. Wait until he gets proper pants. He’ll be able to play a bit. He’ll definitely get them. He’s going shopping now.”

As with everything that Jones says, there was humour in his words, but there was also intrigue; just how good could Cokanasiga be in nine months’ time?

Joe Cokanasiga scored his second try in as many tests as England beat Australia 37-18

The way that Cokanasiga brushed off Foley, sidestepped Jack Dempsey and sent Matt Toomua sprawling with ease before pounding towards the line echoed shades of the late Lomu destroying England time and time again. It cannot be quantified how much relief there was on Saturday that this time, it was a man in white who was tearing up Twickenham.

England are not exactly short on talent out wide, with Jonny May undoubtedly one of the best finishers in world rugby, while Chris Ashton, Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson were all watching on at home, sidelined through injury. They will no doubt have enjoyed what they saw, but for their own personal chances of getting back into the 14 shirt that Cokanasiga currently occupies, it will not have been easy viewing.

It’s almost a shame that after his first taste of international rugby, Cokanasiga now has to go back to the daily grind, but it would be fair to argue that the next two months will be of most importance to the young wing.

If Cokanasiga can go back to Bath and maintain this rich form, he will be impossible to leave out in Dublin when England open their Six Nations campaign against Ireland in a mouth-watering curtain-raiser. That championship also offers a solid run in the national team where he will can continue his incredible development, although while he has made the step up to international rugby look like a stroll in the park, he says it has been anything but.

Joe Cokanasiga echoed shades of Jonah Lomu during a try-scoring display for England

“Definitely not. It’s definitely a step higher,” he added. “It’s quicker and I’m trying my best to adapt to it. I don’t feel relaxed out there but I’m confident in what I do and I just try to back myself.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of. It’s something I can’t really explain. I just love it and there will hopefully be more to come.

“I’d say it’s looking pretty good. We still have a lot of things to work on but it has given us a lot of confidence going into the Six Nations next year.”

Jones was evidently pleased with Cokanasiga's display

Ten weeks is a long time in rugby - look how far England have come in the space of three weeks - but suddenly what should be a daunting trip to Dublin is now a fascinating encounter between the what is arguably the best team on the planet, following Ireland’s win over the All Blacks, and the side who want their Six Nations crown back. It can’t come soon enough.

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