South Africa v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Soweto, August 21
Rokocoko warns there is more to come
August 17, 2010
Winger Rokocoko grabbed a try against Australia last month © Getty Images
New Zealand wing Joe Rokocoko has issued a warning to the rest of the world by insisting that his side are yet to reach their peak.
The All Blacks have swept aside all Tri-Nations opposition this year in crowd-pleasing style and require just one point from this Saturday's clash with South Africa to reclaim the southern hemisphere crown - but the 27-year-old speedster believes that there is more to come.
"I'm loving the rugby we're playing at the moment and I'm sure everyone else is too, I know all the players are," he said as the All Blacks continued their preparations for the Soweto showdown. "It's more entertaining for those watching and I'm sure there are more people tuning in. But we're only at about 70 percent of our capability, we know there's so much more to come before we're at the top of our game.
"It's the close games, the ones you win by a couple or handful of points, the ones that are a real grind, that matter in the World Cup, those are the matches you have to pull out of the fire."
With the All Blacks playing a mixture of their traditional ball-in-hand style and the kicking game last year, Rokocoko's form and confidence suffered. But a clear emphasis on an expansive, high-tempo game and retaining possession has reinvigorated the winger who is second with Christian Cullen on the list of New Zealand's leading tryscorers with 46. Rokocoko passed Jeff Wilson's mark of 44 tries and now has Doug Howlett's record of 49 in his sights.
"The important thing has been to believe in whatever gameplan we are using and we need to keep expressing ourselves," Rokocoko said. "If the opposition kicks more then we mustn't go into our shells. In the last 20 minutes of our games against the Springboks last year, that's what happened, especially with myself.
"I just feel that I am controlling the pressure more this year, I'm distracting myself with other things, catching up with family or having coffee with the boys. It's not just about the footy, there's an 80-minute window in which it's all about the rugby, but you can't focus too much on that.
"It's wonderful to be amongst such great players as Jeff, Christian and Doug, but my major goal is to be consistently good, then the tries tend to come your way. I feel I'm being the most consistent I have been my whole career, I'm just trying to improve week by week," Rokocoko said.
While thrilling, expansive rugby is undoubtedly in the genes of the Fijian-born flyer, Rokocoko acknowledged that the Springboks had flair of their own, provided their forwards got on top of the opposition first. This did not happen in the opening Tri-Nations matches in Auckland and Wellington as the All Blacks beat the South Africans with two of their most telling displays of defensive physicality in many years.
"The trend for the Springboks is to use their big forwards as runners to get over the advantage line. When they get over, then they bring their backs in and they have a bit of flair too. The Stormers were very good in the backline in the Super 14 and the Bulls too, when they backed themselves.
"But the important thing in our tests back home was that we did not allow them to get that forward ball, we stopped their big boys first. The Springboks love to live off set-piece ball, so once you break them up there, they tend to fall off a bit," Rokocoko said.
The All Blacks prefer to keep the ball alive through many phases, avoiding the set-pieces, which has led to some scintillating rugby in this year's Tri-Nations. "Broken play, when there aren't set defences, is probably better for us," Rokocoko said. "It's exciting that the chasers have to wait a bit more now for the kicker to put them on-side, so the counter-attack has changed a bit.
"Wayne Smith (backs coach) gave us grief today because our counter-attack in the last game was probably the worst we've done. We're not pleased with it and we're looking to improve."