New Zealand v Australia, Tri-Nations, September 19
Rokocoko bites back at critics
September 16, 2009
All Black wing Joe Rokocoko has hit back at his critics © Getty Images
Joe Rokocoko has hit back at critics who have questioned his place in the All Blacks' side, maintaining that he is working harder than ever.
The Auckland wing has been singled out for criticism throughout the Tri-Nations as his try-scoring spark appears to have disappeared, yet he insists that his best form is just around the corner.
Having survived the raft of changes for this weekend's showdown with the Wallabies at Westpac Stadium, he has another chance to answer the doubters following an improved showing against the Springboks last week.
"I'm pretty pleased with how I've stepped up," he said. "At the moment it feels like I've been the sole one responsible for losing the Tri-Nations. Overall I'm happy with where I am at the moment. The best game I've played was last week, compared to throughout the whole year.
"I'm working my a**e off. I'm not standing on the wing. I'm trying to get involved as much as I can. Maybe people are looking at me now because they see me more often with the ball, and that's because I'm trying to work hard. When they are saying not enough tries are being scored - I'm only six tries away from having 50 tries, so I've been disappointed with that really.
"It's pretty hard to get the ball when you've got three guys in your face trying to rip your head off. You don't get the leisure of the ball in space. Last weekend, I was always trying to be on the openside wing to get that chance in space. But unfortunately we lost a few things in the set piece, and it never came my way."
Rokocoko's game has not been helped by the amount of possession that has been kicked during this year's tournament, the 26-year-old admitting that the pressurised nature of South Africa's kick-chase left teams without the time and space to keep the ball in hand.
"As a kid, you get excited to run with the ball - not kick the ball," he said. "I guess the forwards get more frustrated than the back three, because they are in the middle just going up and down and wondering what's happening. They want to get into the game and get into the tight part of the game.
"You try and get involved, and the ball has gone again. By the time the ball does come, you've got guys in your face and you're having to kick it back to take the pressure away from you again."
Rokocoko is hoping for an open game against an exciting Wallabies side and is also predicting a relaxed attitude to keeping the ball alive and looking to play.
"They are a team who play with a lot of width and like to spread the ball a bit. The majority of their forwards play like backs as well," he said. "It's exciting. It's more open. I had glimpses of that kind of game when we played them in Sydney as well.
"When Australia play New Zealand the game plan is always the same - guys having a go and using the space, using the width and having a crack really."