Another scintillating performance against Saracens on Friday evening enhanced Semesa Rokoduguni's credentials for a full England debut this autumn. We take a look at his showings so far this season.
In May, we may well look back on this Aviva Premiership weekend as a watershed for Bath – three days that encapsulated a newfound edge and dogged durability. No longer will they be bullied or pushed around. Mike Ford’s West Country side has found a bit of bite.
A 21-11 victory over Saracens on Friday evening spoke for itself. It was a triumph founded on old-fashioned tenacity. Bath outhunted Paul Gustard’s self-styled wolf pack, suffocated them and stormed the Premiership summit.
Then Sunday saw a portrait of incoming Sam Burgess’s considerable qualities. Having crunched his cheekbone with his opening carry of the NRL final, the high-profile code-hopper allayed sickening pain and guided South Sydney Rabbitohs to glory on a tsunami of emotion.
Burgess racked up an incredible individual tally of 225 running metres and 35 tackles. More than anything though, this game demonstrated intangible attributes – immense charisma, dogged desire, an innate aura of leadership – that he will bring to Bath.
Remember, Ford senior still has Carl Fearns and Francois Louw to return. It is tough to imagine them taking a backward step from here; such is the spikiness about the squad.
The knock-on effect from this abrasive muscle is more eye-catching. A blockbuster backline, led by gain-line slicer George Ford, is positively purring.
Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph are impressing in a sparky midfield partnership – each snared a try and an assist each against Saracens. Even so, neither managed to snatch the official man-of-the-match award away from a Fijian-born firecracker.
In Semesa Rokoduguni, Bath have a diamond. More than that, they have a Test-quality wing who could easily be the wildcard to energise England’s Rugby World Cup bid. While relentless work-rate without the ball paved the way for Friday’s victory, Rokoduguni’s ambitious bursts on the counter catalysed momentum.
All told, his fleet feet and deceptive power beat the challenge of nine Saracens defenders. Staggeringly, he only carried the ball eight times. Those figures boosted his overall total for the campaign so far to 22 tackle-busts from 37 runs. That ratio puts him firmly in the category of what Stuart Lancaster calls a “something from nothing player.” You can factor in nine clean breaks in four matches too.
A reconnaissance tank soldier who toured Afghanistan seven years ago, Rokoduguni is a hugely humble, God-fearing figure. More than half of his post-match interview the other night constituted of him pointing skyward and thanking the big man upstairs. Still, modesty won’t stop what seems an inexorable surge towards a full international debut.
Blooded by the Saxons in Scotland this January, the 27 year-old feature for an England XV in June’s Barbarians fixture. Hulking opposite number Hosea Gear caused some problems, but Rokoduguni certainly held his own. And this term, he has hit the ground sprinting.
His haul of four tries underlines valuable predatory instincts, no better illustrated by this opportunistic interception for the second score of a brace in Bath’s 53-26 thrashing of London Welsh last month.
Hunting the shoulder of fly-half Ford is also proving fruitful, and this short-range effort – just escaping the clutches of Danny Cipriani to skate over in the corner – set up an opening-day triumph over Sale Sharks.
However, just as attractive as formidable finishing to Lancaster will be Rokoduguni’s footballing skill, unsurprisingly honed in sevens. As England strive towards an all-court approach played at pace, decision-making such as this, in the lead-up to Peter Stringer’s try against Leicester Tigers, stands out.
Not content with searing 60 metres upfield, Rokoduguni remains calm enough to link up with Alafoti Faosiliva, who in turn delivers the scoring pass.
Now into the groove for new club Harlequins, Marland Yarde is very likely to be trusted in England’s first autumn clash with the All Blacks on November 8. The second wing slot is up for grabs. Jack Nowell, Christian Wade and Jonny May have youth and time in the set-up on their side. They must be considered front runners.
That said, while Rokoduguni may need some iffy defensive habits ironed out, he is spectacularly good with ball in hand. From the June series in New Zealand, Lancaster knows one of the final pieces in his jigsaw is a ruthless, clinical attacker. Bath’s bright-eyed wide-man is an outstanding candidate.
Read what the experts have to say about Sam Burgess’s switch to union in the November issue of Rugby World – in shops from Tuesday 5 October! Click here for all the latest deals, or find out how to download the digital edition here.