Thursday 17 October 2019

Burly Cokanasiga handed World Cup audition

England's Joe Cokanasiga during training. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra
England's Joe Cokanasiga during training. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Joe Cokanasiga, the man "with the world at his feet", according to fellow wing Jonny May, takes to the Twickenham stage this afternoon intent not just on living up to that billing for the sake of his team-mates but also to press his case as the World Cup clock ticks down and the 'England's Got Talent' strapline is put to the test.

The principal job at hand for England is to beat Italy to keep their championship hopes alive, and only those in the Azzurri colours do not believe that yet another English win in this fixture is a nailed-on bet.

In a two-horse race, odds of 60-1 against an Italian win reflect a certain reality.

There is nothing dismissive in that statement, nothing patronising in feeling that Italy will be sharp and defiant, a tough nut to crack but ultimately second best to an England team who showed their shrewdness and potency in the opening two games against Ireland and France.

If they find that form again, then Italy will be under extreme duress and will have to deliver a performance of the highest note to keep England at bay.

Those flickering signs of an Italian renaissance will need to be ablaze today if England are to be denied.

On paper, it looks as if England are ready to saddle up the one-trick pony again in picking one of their biggest-back-line trios in Ben Te'o and Manu Tuilagi in the centre, with the heavyweight Cokanasiga outside.

Big is not always best, of course, but in a game where getting across the gain-line is the Holy Grail, then England are well-suited to get to first base in the attack book manual.

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For England to prosper, so many other parts have to fit and link properly. If they do, then those players will have served the common cause as well as enhanced their own World Cup prospects.

England v Italy, Live, Virgin Media 1/ITV, 4.45

England - E Daly; J Cokanasiga, M Tuilagi, B Te'o, J May; O Farrell (capt), B Youngs; E Genge, J George, K Sinckler; J Launchbury, G Kruis;, B Shields, T Curry, B Vunipola. Reps: L Cowan-Dickie, B Moon, D Cole, N Hughes, M Wilson, D Robson, G Ford, H Slade.

Italy - J Hayward; E Padovani, L Morisi, M Campagnaro, A Esposito; T Allan, T Tebaldi; A Lovotti, L Bigi, S Ferrari, F Ruzza, D Budd, S Negri, A Steyn, S Parisse (capt). Replacements: L Ghiraldini, C Traore, T Pasquali, D Sisi, J Polledri, G Palazzani, I McKinley, T Castello.

Ref - N Berry (Australia).

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