ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster insists Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni is ready to make an impression against world champions New Zealand at Twickenham tomorrow after handing the uncapped wing his international debut.
Lancaster has named Fiji-born Rokoduguni, a serving soldier in the British Army who has seen action in Afghanistan, in the right-wing slot for England’s opening clash of the QBE Series against the All Blacks.
The 27-year-old has made a blistering start to the season with Bath and Lancaster has no qualms about handing the 27-year-old his bow against such stellar opposition, with Steve Hansen’s side losing just twice in 46 Tests since lifting the World Cup back in 2011.
“He’s hit the ground running this season and there are a lot of stats that say he is topping every category,” said Lancaster. “Wing is an extremely competitive position but he has pushed himself forward with his form this season and it’s great to be able to give him this opportunity.
“He’s 27 years old. We’ve got some guys in the team who are 20 years old and I think that experience he’s had, both inside and outside of rugby, means he’s pretty calm.”
Rokoduguni’s Bath team-mate Dave Attwood makes the XV after the birth of his first child and will partner Courtney Lawes in the second row, with Owen Farrell at fly-half despite a thigh strain restricting him to just two starts for Saracens this term.
Lancaster has opted for the previously untried centre pairing of Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt while wing Anthony Watson and second row George Kruis await their first international starts from the bench.
Fly-half Dan Carter misses out on a place in the New Zealand side after his 30-minute cameo following injury against the United States in Chicago last week, with Aaron Cruden at No10 while skipper Richie McCaw and wing Julian Savea are restored.
England have lost their last four clashes against the All Blacks dating back to their historic 38-21 victory at Twickenham in December 2012, although Lancaster has prioritised bucking that trend.
“From a coaching perspective, you want the things you’ve done in training to be translated into the game and under the white-hot intensity which that game will bring,” added Lancaster. “It’s making sure that the players can apply what they’ve done in training and deliver it on the field, but that’s the secondary objective, the first is to win.”
England team to face All Blacks
Team: Brown, Rokoduguni, Barritt, Eastmond, May, Farrell, Care; Marler, Hartley, Wilson, Attwood, Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, B Vunipola
Replacements: Webber, Mullan, Brookes, Kruis, Morgan, B Youngs, Ford, Watson