Joe Cokanasiga is a dark horse but could still force his way into Eddie Jones’ plans for next year’s Rugby World Cup, according to ex-England international Mark Cueto.
Cokasaniga will make his international debut when England host Japan at Twickenham and Cueto, who won 55 caps between 2004 and 2012, believes the 21-year-old has as good a chance as anybody if he impresses.
He seems well placed to comment as Cueto, after all, knows a thing or two about what it takes to play on the wing at a World Cup, controversially being disallowed a try for Brian Ashton's England in the final back in 2007.
And although the likes of Elliot Daly and Jonny May may feature higher on the list of expected starters in Japan next autumn, Cokasaniga can make a real statement when he faces the Cherry Blossoms today.
“Reading into what Eddie Jones is saying about him, he seems like a real favourite if you can use that word without him being capped currently,” Cueto told The Brian Moore Show (weekdays 3pm-7pm).“It would take a lot for him to dislodge the likes of Jonny May, Chris Ashton, Jack Nowell or Elliot Daly. If you think, going into a World Cup, you're generally only going to take four back-three players.
“Those four, for me, would be the nailed-on ones right now. For him to break his way and knock one of those out, he's going to have to do something pretty exceptional but stranger things have happened.”
Standing at an imposing 6ft 4in and weighing over 18 stone, Cokasaniga would represent a bruising proposition for opponents – a wrecking ball with plenty of pace to burn – and Cueto, who is glad to have retired a year before the 21-year-old burst onto the scene in English rugby, reckons Jones could turn to him as an alternative.
The Australian coach is not short of options with the ability to mix up his combinations within the backs to find a formula that can deliver when it matters.
It was not that long ago that England stood as one of the favourites for the tournament, but a rocky spell has Jones searching once more for that winning streak.
With Cokasaniga one to keep an eye on as an outsider for selection, Cueto believes there is plenty there to generate confidence heading into a vital 2019.
He added: “We know Jack Nowell is an outstanding winger. He's a very different sort of winger from Jonny May or Chris Ashton. He's a grafter.
“They are out-and-out finishers but Jack Nowell is a bit more of a workhorse. I love him as a player. We know what he can do on the wing.
“He's a bit more of a rounded footballer, which is probably why with a World Cup around the corner, the more players that have got an extra string to their bow bring that added value.”
The immediate expectation will be victory by a comfortable margin against the Japanese as Jones faces his old employers.
But with 11 changes former Sale back Cueto thinks England’s task will be finding familiarity amid change and believes the senior players must step up.
“Equally, you think back to New Zealand beating them by 30 points with a second team, if we use that as a benchmark, we've got to be looking - at home, at Twickenham, even with all these chances - for a 20-point win on Saturday. I think we will,” said Cueto.
“On paper, the 11 changes suggest it's going to be difficult but you look at the core of that squad - Care, Ford, Ashton, Lawes, Itoje - there are so many caps and so much experience. There's so much talent there to drop in there and put a performance in.”
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