Rugby Union

I’m perplexed… Cokanasiga doesn’t need protecting, just let him fly

I’m perplexed… Joe Cokanasiga doesn’t need protecting, Eddie Jones needs to let him just fly for England

  • England host Scotland in the final round of Six Nations clashes on Saturday 
  • Joe Cokanasiga has been omitted from the England matchday 23-man squad
  • This is no slight on Jack Nowell but Twickenham wanted to see Cokanasiga

I’m disappointed with the team Eddie Jones has picked to face Scotland and I suspect most England fans will feel the same.

I will be at Twickenham with ITV and I have gone from being really excited to see Joe Cokanasiga again to being perplexed that he will not take the field at all. As a coach and a player, you want to wake up on Saturday morning excited about your team and the way you’re going to play, but this selection does not tick these boxes.

The Six Nations has been a mixed bag for Eddie and England, from 10 out of 10 against Ireland and France to five against Wales, so to finish it off I was expecting a fiery, X-factor team.

Joe Cokanasiga won't be running riot for England against Scotland on Saturday at Twickenham

Joe Cokanasiga won’t be running riot for England against Scotland on Saturday at Twickenham

The barnstorming winger has been omitted from England's matchday 23-man squad

The barnstorming winger has been omitted from England’s matchday 23-man squad

Eddie’s selection has been understandable and solid up to now, but this is conservative.

That is no slight on Jack Nowell, who is a fantastic player with an important role for England, as he proved in Dublin. But Twickenham wanted to see Cokanasiga.

Nowell’s credentials are well established. Eddie knows he can depend on him in any arena, but Cokanasiga needs blooding against tougher opposition. When it comes to making big calls for the World Cup, what does Eddie judge him on?

I would certainly have started with him, so not to have him involved at all is really strange. I am sure the likes of Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi would want Cokanasiga outside them because he’s so dynamic.

Likewise, I think Scotland will be thinking, ‘Thank God for that!’ Eddie has taken a lot away from the game by not picking such an X-factor player. Eddie says he has left out Cokanasiga to protect him from impending hype and scrutiny. Eddie knows his players better than anyone, but I cannot get on board with that approach. 

Players want to play and it’s only under pressure that you discover true potential. Cokanasiga is not an 17-year-old academy prospect, he is playing every week in the Premiership. 

Cokanasiga showed his X-factor against Italy - leaving multiple defenders trailing in his wake

Cokanasiga showed his X-factor against Italy – leaving multiple defenders trailing in his wake

Jack Nowell (left) has been recalled but Twickenham will have wanted to see Cokanasiga start

Jack Nowell (left) has been recalled but Twickenham will have wanted to see Cokanasiga start

The head coach of England is not there to dampen the flames around a player but to find out if someone can play.

The hype will come sooner or later. It is inevitable. You could argue it’s already there, so embrace it, manage it and thrive upon it. From what I can tell, Cokanasiga is modest and determined so he will handle what is coming maturely. To be dropped for this reason will be gutting. You don’t want special treatment, but to be picked on merit.

We had something similar with Jason Robinson when he converted from rugby league. After he crossed codes in November 2000, I picked him on the bench for his first three Six Nations games in 2001 and after 10 minutes everyone around me at Twickenham was screaming, ‘Get him on!’

That would have been the same if Cokanasiga was on the bench on Saturday, I’m sure. The youngster handled last week really well, playing outstandingly against Italy, and then he spoke brilliantly afterwards when he was named man of the match. He was very modest.

You can win World Cups with players who are 21-years-old or who burst on the scene late. Look at Nehe Milner-Skudder for the All Blacks at the last World Cup in 2015. He made his debut a month before the tournament and was key to New Zealand winning it. 

Nehe Milner-Skudder (left) played a key role as New Zealand won the 2015 Rugby World Cup

Nehe Milner-Skudder (left) played a key role as New Zealand won the 2015 Rugby World Cup

This is where Stuart Lancaster worked himself into a corner by saying he wanted a team with so many caps and experienced players. Just pick your best team.

England have got a team to win the World Cup and if you add Cokanasiga, that is the back line, no doubt about it.

On the positive side, I am really pleased to see Slade back. He should not have been left out last week. With him and Tuilagi as centres, you can constantly swap them around as it suits.

But it is a shame not to see Ellis Genge starting at loosehead prop. I would be interested to see Brad Shields play, too.

Mark Wilson has been a great success and another good performance will see his confidence rocket. I just feel there could be more to come from Shields and this was a good opportunity.

Eddie could pick a very exciting team but we’re not going to see it on Saturday. Against Scotland at home and with no Grand Slam pressure, he may have missed an opportunity. Sometimes you can get a bit too smart on selection and 82,000 people at Twickenham will be disappointed that Cokanasiga is not in the team.

England head coach Eddie Jones could've picked a more exciting starting XV to face Scotland

England head coach Eddie Jones could’ve picked a more exciting starting XV to face Scotland

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