Semesa Rokoduguni must not become a ‘one-cap wonder’, says Bath coach Neal Hatley, who believes the in-form wing was harshly treated by England following his lone appearance against New Zealand during the autumn.
Called up amid a fanfare in November, Army man Rokoduguni did little wrong against the All Blacks. But a hip injury denied him a follow-up appearance against South Africa before he was ditched from the squad altogether.
Club-mate Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Jonny May are the wide men now vying for the shirt, with Chris Ashton, Marland Yarde and Christian Wade in behind, but Hatley insists England would be mad to write off Rokoduguni.
He told The Rugby Paper: “Roko will be feeling very frustrated and, as a club, we know what a good rugby player he is. We didn’t feel he got the opportunity to show what he was really capable of for England on a big stage.
“In that New Zealand game, England spent a large part of it on the back foot. Then he picked up a little niggle, which meant he couldn’t train early the following week, so he misses the South Africa game and
doesn’t get another chance.
“It’s a tough one and, personally, I would have given him another crack. If you bring in a person like that, you bring him in for two or three weeks and let him have a proper run at it. I think he warranted at least another game.”
Hatley added: “On his day, Roko is one of the most complete wingers in England. He kicks the ball well, he’s an unbelievably powerful carrier, both through people and around them, and he’s an incredibly brave defender as well.
“He’s a big bloke and he’s been exceptional in our last few games, especially claiming high balls and cross-field kicks. I’d love to see Roko get another opportunity with England, especially against a side where he gets to attack a little bit.”
Hatley, meanwhile, is tipping prop Davey Wilson to win the race to wear England’s starting tight-head jersey ahead of Leicester’s Dan Cole.
Wilson is back in full training after injury and Hatley said: “Before he got injured Davey was undisputedly the top tight-head in England and even if Dan Cole had been fit in the autumn, he’d have been hard pressed to get a start.
“It would have been a hell of a competition between them, though, and I fully expect Henry Thomas to be challenging for that World Cup spot as well. There aren’t too many tight-forwards with his decision and ball-carrying abilities.
“Henry’s improved his scrum work tremendously and he’s really going to put his hand up, along with Kieran Brookes who’s done well for England. It’s a fantastic position for Graham Rowntree to have four quality tight-heads like that.”
With Wilson and Thomas due back from injury and Sam Burgess settling into the back row, Hatley believes Bath possess a pack that can silence the doubters and bring Premiership title success to the Rec for the first time since 1996.
He added: “We’re in a good place. Statistically, our pack is in the top one or two and I’m pleased with our depth. There are some very good packs at Exeter, Saracens, Northampton and Leicester but on our day we match up very well.
“I’d back our pack against anyone and with what we’ve got behind, if we can make the top four anything can happen in the play-offs. We respect the other packs, but we don’t fear them and it’s about staying on our mettle now.”
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