New Zealand Rugby
Baa-baa Joe can be All Black again
November 20, 2009
Joe Rokocoko can score, but needs improvement on kicking and catching © Getty Images
All Blacks attack coach Steve Hansen says Barbarian Joe Rokocoko can win back his test rugby place - provided he improves his kicking game and aerial skills.
Hansen welcomed news of Rokocoko's agreement to play for the Barbarians in the All Blacks' tour finale at Twickenham on December 5.
Other big-name players set to don the Barbarians jersey are Springboks Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield; Wallabies Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom; and Welshmen Jamie Roberts and Andy Powell, while former All Black Jerry Collins is reportedly in negotiations with his Ospreys side for a release for the game.
Rokocoko, a 60-test winger with 45 tries to his name, was overlooked for the All Blacks squad for the current tour despite scoring a try in the 33-6 demolition of the Wallabies in Wellington in September. Hansen insisted Rokocoko was far from a spent force at test level.
"There's always a pathway back. He's 26 years old, Joe, and he's been a great player for New Zealand and scored a lot of tries," Hansen said. "His game's probably not suited to the kicking game we've seen. He's got to look to add things into his game, so it doesn't matter if they're kicking the ball or running at him.
"To be fair he worked pretty hard at that during the Tri-Nations and did quite well at it, but we just saw this as an opportunity to have a look at these other guys. His job now is to have a big off-season and come back and play really well in the Super 14 and say 'hey, pick me'."
Rokocoko will likely mark All Blacks newcomers Zac Guildford or Ben Smith in the tour finale. Hansen admitted a big game from Rokocoko at Twickenham wouldn't be an automatic ticket back.
"It will be interesting but it's pretty hard to judge anyone on just one game. You've got to look at the overall season and for Joe it won't matter too much what he does in the Baabaas game.
Guildford and Smith both impressed the coaches on their test debuts in Cardiff and Milan respectively. Both displayed fullback's qualities, which are now seen as essential for the modern-day winger.
"That's the way it's looking. For some time you've needed the qualities as a wing not only to score tries but also to defend like a fullback and have good aerial skills and good kicking skills. Both those young guys have got that," Hansen said.
"That's probably where Joe has got to improve his kicking game, it's probably not as a good a skill for him as the other two. "