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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
An extraordinary Joe
By David Walmsley
BBC Sport

Rokocoko completes his hat-trick against the Wallabies
Rokocoko has scored 10 tries in his first five Tests for New Zealand
To spectators and opponents alike, it is Joe Rokocoko's searing pace and sharpness of finish that single out the All Blacks wing sensation as a world-beating talent.

To New Zealand coach John Mitchell, though, it is the 20-year-old's intelligence and level-headedness that impress him most.

Those tributes to a rare combination of physical and mental strength suggest the Fiji-born flier has greatness in his grasp.

And this year's Rugby World Cup looks the ideal stage on which to seize it.

In the six weeks since making his debut against England, Rokocoko has gone from being one of the bigger names in the Auckland phone book to being bracketed alongside the biggest names in New Zealand rugby history.

Jonah Lomu, John Kirwan, Bryan Williams, Bernie Fraser, Jeff Wilson and Stu Wilson are the heroes he has been name-checked against so far.

Having scored 10 tries in his first five Tests, Rokocoko looks worthy of the spiralling expectations that already surround him.

LOWDOWN ON JOE
Name: Joe Rokocoko
Position: Wing
Born: 6 June 1983, in Nadi, Fiji
Height: 6 ft 2 in (1.89m)
Weight: 15 st 6 lb (98kg)
Tests: 5
Tries: 10
NZ debut: v England, 14 June 2003
Rep hons: NZ Schools, U16, U19, U21, Sevens, Full

Now the mental solidity and grounded personality his handlers prize so highly will be just as vital in coping with the comparisons with the legends of All Black wing play.

The Lomu link is the most common, but its similarities are strongest in achievement rather than style.

Rokocoko is the youngest All Black since Lomu made his debut at 19 almost a decade ago and has the potential to make the sort of World Cup splash his predecessor did in 1995.

But Lomu has almost three inches in height and more than 20 kilos in weight on his successor in the number 11 shirt.

As a consequence, their playing styles differ significantly.

Rokocoko does not have the sledgehammer impact of Lomu but is arguably a better-balanced athlete, with his long-striding, fluid style closer to that of classic runners like Kirwan.

The Auckland back is also unquestionably quicker over the ground - and that is no slight against Lomu.

Even former sprint champion Doug Howlett, who runs 100m in 10.7 seconds, trails in Rokocoko's wake.

In training, the sevens star covers the optimum winger's distance of 40m in just 4.66 seconds.

Rokocoko dives over for the Blues in this year's Super 12
Rokocoko caught the eye with the Blues in this year's Super 12
That pace has driven him up through the New Zealand rugby pyramid, representing the country he arrived in aged five at all junior levels.

Joining the IRB sevens circuit last year, he scored 27 tries in six tournaments.

And he would have announced his arrival to the wider world had a broken ankle not ruled him out of the Commonwealth Games.

Cousin of another All Black wing, Joeli Vidiri, Rokocoko's rise also has the rare quality of having reached Super 12 and international level without a traditional schooling in the National Provincial Championship.

Raw pace has taken him some of the way but focusing solely on speed ignores the other weapons in his armoury, principally his physical strength and his sweet handling of the ball.

As Rokocoko says himself: "Playing wing is about more than just sprinting.

"I have to have the confidence in my ability and go out and express it."

On the evidence of hat-tricks against Australia and France, and further braces of tries against Wales and South Africa, he is already doing exactly that.




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