Cokanasiga's journey to the England World Cup squad
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Joe Cokanasiga performed Fiji’s traditional Cibi war dance at the 2015 World Cup’s opening night, all the while thinking he would never play in the global spectacle.
Just four years on he has forced his way into England’s 31-man squad for the World Cup in Japan and still cannot quite believe it.
England beat Fiji 35-11 at Twickenham to open their home World Cup on September 18, 2015, with Cokanasiga part of Fijian embassy efforts to showcase the Pacific Island. Now England boss Eddie Jones heralds the 21-year-old as “absolutely devastating”, with Bath’s wing powerhouse admitting he had to sharpen up mentally to launch his Test career.
“I was actually at Fiji-England on the opening night of the 2015 World Cup, for the Fiji embassy – we were showcasing our country before the game started,” said Cokanasiga. “I remember the vibe that night, and the whole vibe around the World Cup and thinking that I wanted to do all this one day.
“It didn’t feel possible, but now I am and that all feels a bit weird. We were performing Fiji’s war dance and traditional dances at the front gates at Twickenham. It feels weird having done that and now preparing for the next World Cup with England.”
Cokanasiga was born in Fiji but eventually raised in England as his father served in the British Army. The powerful and pacy runner broke through at London Irish and edged his way into England’s summer tour to Argentina in 2017 when head coach Jones was missing his British and Irish Lions contingent.
Cokanasiga admits that tour proved an eye-opener on the real requirements of Test level rugby. “It was that tour to Argentina, I got shocked about what I needed to do,” he said. “I was quite immature at the time.
“I assumed everything would come to me, that I wouldn’t need to work hard for it to happen. After Argentina, I sorted myself out. If I really wanted to play for England there was stuff that I needed to change, mentality-wise in particular and take rugby more seriously.”
Cokanasiga’s devastating combination of pace, power and size have elevated him rapidly to the Test stage. But now boss Jones believes he must fight to realise his startling full potential, with the wily Australian coach confident he can hit those heights in this fast-approaching World Cup.
“He’s going through that tough period at the moment, Wales picked on him at the weekend and he has got to find a way to get in the game,” said Jones. “This is a great opportunity against Ireland to show that he can because the potential of the kid is enormous.
“When he has got the ball in his hands and when he gets his high ball catching right, he is absolutely devastating. These are the games he needs to learn how to fight his way through Test rugby.
“He is one of those kids who comes into Test rugby and the first couple of games, he is magic. Someone has blown some dust on him. Everything is good. Then teams work you out. It is like Test cricket. A team gets you out a certain way and then every time you go into bat, they’re looking to get you out the same way.
“Test rugby is the same. That is the big difference between Test and domestic rugby. When people see a weakness, they go at you and keep going at you. Then the development of the player is, ‘right, how do I fix this? And how do I get around it?’
“Joe is going through that process at the moment. So it’s good for him. The good players eventually always work it out and he is going to be a good player.”