All Blacks: Rokocoko poised for record tally

By Wynne Gray

Joe Rokocoko says there's a group of talented players shadowing him, any one of whom could easily take his spot. Photo / Getty Images
Joe Rokocoko says there's a group of talented players shadowing him, any one of whom could easily take his spot. Photo / Getty Images

For some time Joe Rokocoko has felt he's had a Most Wanted sign across his forehead.

This weekend he will carry another tag as the Most Capped All Black Wing when he plays his 64th test to sneak ahead of John Kirwan and Jonah Lomu's career tallies.

"They've wanted to take my head off," Rokocoko said as he pondered the ubiquitous questions into his form and mentioned the talented chasing group.

Cory Jane had adapted strongly, then there were others like Zac Guildford, Rene Ranger, the injured Sitiveni Sivivatu and Isaia Toeava, and Israel Dagg who'd been so sharp when he came on in the last test.

"With guys like that you have to make sure you are doing your job as a wing really well because any of those guys can fit in really well."

Rokocoko knows he has to build in his comeback and demands that of himself before he will renew his New Zealand Rugby Union contract which expires at the end of this year.

"There are a lot of guys knocking on the door and if I take my focus away then the opportunity can be lost," he said.

"If I know I can't give any more then that will be my final decision in the end, if I can't do the black jersey justice and play to my best then the better option would be for me to leave.

"But if I know I ... have plenty more to give to the jersey [as] greats like Jonah and JK have done before me, then I want to add more."

Rokocoko has felt the public glare and media scrutiny, he's noted comments from rugby luminaries as he returned to the All Blacks this winter.

He's been through it again after a hamstring strain eliminated him from the side's victory against the Springboks in Wellington.

But Rokocoko has returned to the starting side for Saturday's start to the Bledisloe Cup campaign in Melbourne with halfback Jimmy Cowan.

Fit-again loose forward Victor Vito comes into the reserves instead of Liam Messam.

Rokocoko returns instead of Ranger and Cowan starts, with Piri Weepu due to rejoin the side last night after becoming a first-time father at the weekend.

That late arrival after the team had done 60 per cent of their preparation, said coach Graham Henry, created the change in selection order.

Cowan will match up against Wallaby strikeforce Will Genia, a man he reckoned was "pretty sharp" and a "tough little bugger too" who had been such a part of the Reds and Wallabies' resurgence.

"He reminds me a lot of Dan Carter when he plays, he is very cool, calm and collected."

The Wallabies have made two switches to their team, Stephen Moore starting at hooker instead of Saia Faingaa who goes to the bench, Berrick Barnes picked at second five-eighths and Matt Giteau moving in a spot for the suspended Quade Cooper.

Coach Robbie Deans was not giving away much in any answers yesterday, from the time he insisted questions be directed about the test rather than the dodgy surface at Etihad Stadium.

He hoped the work of referee Craig Joubert would be as consistent as others this season and that the test would be a great game and great theatre for many to enjoy.

He believed the All Blacks would be far tougher than the Springboks had been.

"It is a New Zealand side which can play in many ways," he said. "They test you mentally and physically, it is the ultimate test to play the All Blacks and that is great."

Henry offered a wait-and-see word on the ground surface but said that should not alter the ball retention running philosophy of both sides.

The Wallabies might be a shade more predictable without Cooper, who was a very interesting five-eighths with more than "a bit of Carlos [Spencer] about him".

Genia was also a huge part of the Wallaby strikeforce.

"He's a bloody good player isn't he," Henry chuckled, "and you don't have to be Einstein to work that out.

"He is a very fine player, he is electric off the mark which keeps people pretty honest round the fringes, a special player."

AUSTRALIA

AA Cooper
James O'Connor
Rob Horne
Berrick Barnes
Drew Mitchell
Matt Giteau
Will Genia
Richard Brown
David Pocock
Rocky Elsom (c)
Nathan Sharpe
Dean Mumm
Salesi Maafu
Stephen Moore
Benn Robinson
ALL BLACKS

Mils Muliaina
Cory Jane
Conrad Smith
Ma'a Nonu
Joe Rokocoko
Daniel Carter
Jimmy Cowan
Kieran Read
Richie McCaw (c)
Jerome Kaino
Tom Donnelly
Brad Thorn
Owen Franks
Keven Mealamu
Tony Woodcock

Australia: Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Matt Hodgson, Luke Burgess, Anthony Faingaa, Kurtley Beale.

All Blacks: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Samuel Whitelock, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg.

Melbourne, 10.05pm Saturday

- NZ Herald

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