Australia v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Melbourne, July 31
Rokocoko doesn't want to be history
July 28, 2010
Rokocoko will eclipse the marks of Jonah Lomu and John Kirwan in Melbourne this weekend © Getty Images
New Zealand winger Joe Rokocoko is refusing to dwell on his latest career milestone and has instead set his sights on cementing his place in the All Blacks' ranks.
Eclipsing the service of try-scoring greats John Kirwan and Jonah Lomu is a special achievement but Rokocoko, at just 27, realises he is not immune from being pensioned off as the next generation of multi-faceted outside backs covet his senior position in the All Blacks.
Rokocoko makes his 64th Test appearance against the Wallabies in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup opener here at Etihad Stadium, knowing it would be career-enhancing to break a five-game tryless streak that started after the Sydney test against Australia last September.
"I'm the man most wanted in New Zealand at the moment," he mused, in relation to public criticism that he is past his best. "Everyone wants to take my head off."
Fellow elder statesman Mils Muliaina has already survived a challenge by Israel Dagg -- the talented fullback then showed wing was not beyond his capabilities when he scored a fine individual try against South Africa in Wellington.
Rokocoko missed that Test with a hamstring injury and watched as Dagg starred off the bench, marking his first ever game on the wing with a five-pointer the Aucklander could have patented during his breakthrough season in 2003.
"It's not only Dagg. You've got another dozen wingers in New Zealand whose initial goal is to play on the wing for the All Blacks," Rokocoko said, describing himself as almost an endangered species. "I'm the only initial (specialist) winger in this team," noting right wing Cory Jane has morphed from fullback.
Rokocoko has been preferred to specialist wing men Zac Guildford, and Hosea Gear - and his experience guaranteed inclusion against the Wallabies though even his loyal defender Graham Henry acknowledged the scorer of 46 test tries was still on trial.
"Obviously he's under pressure. There's other guys playing well in that position. Israel Dagg came on against South Africa and had some magic moments, but he's still learning," the All Blacks head coach said, noting savvy can still count over youthful exuberance. We've gone for the guy who's been there and done it and done well in the past."
But what of the future for Rokocoko. He was considered a liability when the kick-chase game was in vogue and missed the cut for last year's tour of Japan and Europe.
Fortunately the All Blacks have reverted back to the expansive game he thrived on when debuting seven years ago.
"There's no more standing out on the wing in the cold and waiting for the kick back and chase," he said. "The ball is flowing from left to right and there's more chance for guys to get involved. Your eyes just light up. You get excited."
Rokocoko only found out yesterday he was on the brink of a history-making Test and considered it a "huge honour".
"Obviously we've had JK (Kirwan) and Jonah. Goldie (Jeff Wilson) and Dougie (Howlett), who are on the 60 mark as well. That's been one of the things when you play for this team - you want to do really well for those guys that set the standard beforehand."
Asked how far he could extend the new benchmark, the softly spoken finisher could not offer an end point. Rokocoko is off contract at the end of the year, there has been talk of playing offshore even with the lure of a third tilt at the World Cup less than 12 months away.
"I'll be just trying to do my part on the field and play really well for this team," he said. "Obviously the World Cup is always going to be a major goal. But if I know I can't do the black jersey justice, it's a better option for me to leave than carry on."