Sunday 20 October 2019

'Big Joe' draws Lomu comparisons in England's ruthless Italian rout

England 57 Italy 14

Joe Cokanasiga. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Joe Cokanasiga. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Gavin Mairs

Joe Cokanasiga made such a breathtaking impact on his first Six Nations start for England that there was a clamour for comparisons in the afterglow of this one-sided victory over Italy.

His potent mix of physical prowess and pace laced with blessed handling and aerial skills ­- a testament to his Fijian heritage - and refreshing lack of inhibition was the talk of Twickenham as the supporters left the stadium on Saturday night.

Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v Italy - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 9, 2019 England's Manu Tuilagi scores their fifth try Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborr‡
Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v Italy - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 9, 2019 England's Manu Tuilagi scores their fifth try Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborr‡

The eight-try victory ensured England will go into their final match of the championship against Scotland on Saturday with their title hopes still alive should Wales not complete the Grand Slam against Ireland earlier in Cardiff, but the spotlight was all on 'Big Joe'.

England's new Jonah Lomu? Clive Woodward in his role as a television pundit certainly gave credence to the suggestion that the 6'4", 17st 9lbs Bath wing had "all the qualities" to play like the late All Black great.

Eddie Jones, the England head coach, was quick to dismiss that as a "ridiculous" comparison but was prepared to contemplate the prediction that he could become as good as the great Australia full-back Israel Folau, widely regarded as the most dominant aerial competitor on the world stage, honed by spells in rugby league and Australian rules football.

"He (Cokanasiga) could be one of the best players in the air in the world," said Jones. "Probably Israel Folau is the best and there is no reason why he cannot challenge him in the future."

Cokanasiga won the aerial contest from Owen Farrell's kick-off and within 64 seconds he had taken another ball from the England captain in the air before flicking a sumptuous one-handed offload to Tom Curry.

The England flanker could not hold on to the ball. But the tone was set for an outstanding man-of-the-match contribution, even if he felt the award should have gone to Manu Tuilagi for his two tries, his first for England in five years.

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Overall Cokanasiga made 108 metres, five clean breaks and two offloads, leading his team in each category.

There was little joy for Italy, who briefly drew level after Jamie George had opened the scoring when Tommaso Allan finished in the corner, while Luca Morisi also crossed for a late try.

Yet in between it was an England procession, with tries also coming from Jonny May, Brad Shields (2), the excellent George Kruis and Dan Robson.

The story of the match, though, was all about Cokanasiga. (©The Daily Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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