Rokocoko hopes to come out of slump

Joe Rokocoko is hoping that playing on the drier rugby fields of South Africa will help improve his current slump in form when New Zealand face the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Joe Rokocoko is hoping that playing on the drier rugby fields of South Africa will help improve his current slump in form when New Zealand face the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Auckland winger will win his 56th cap after he was yesterday included in the starting line-up named by Graham Henry – one of two changes made by the coach, who has also picked Brendon Leonard.

It was a welcome selection for the 26-year-old, after a tough spell of form which has seen him touch down just twice since the 2007 World Cup, the second of which came against Italy just under four weeks ago.

And he is now banking on the dry wintry conditions of South Africa, which he believes has served Springbok players so well over the years, to lift his own tempo.

“Bloemfontein is a good place to play running rugby,” he said. “Wayne Smith (assistant coach) was reminding me how good the track is.

“It is ideal for running rugby, even more so for the wingers. The backs are enjoying some good hard running and hopefully we can do well.

“The backs the Boks have had over the last few years have shown that. JP Pietersen and (Bryan) Habana have showed that playing at home, there is something else. So we want a piece of that too.”

Talking about his recent below-par performances, which even seemed to concern his coach last month, who publicly spoke about it ahead of the Italian Test match, Rokocoko conceded that he needed to ease up.

He continued: “I guess I have been too stressed out and worrying about my performance too much and expectations have got ahead of myself.

“I have just taken away that load and concentrated on my daily training, not the weekend.

“I have been conscious of getting my confidence up and making sure I am fresh for the weekend.”

However, pressure is something he could be forgiven for feeling this week with the Fijian-born winger standing on the brink of equalling the 10-try record against the Springboks, held by form All Black ace, Christian Cullen.

He played down the possibility, saying he was just happy to be back in the team.

“The driving factor was to get into the starting 15,” he said. “I have to concentrate on doing my best for the team, and if I do that then everything else will fall into place.

“I’ve got to make use of the chance that I have. It is big being in the match 22.

“The difference is that when you are on the bench you will get a few minutes on the park, but when starting you are guaranteed of getting plenty of minutes under your belt.”

Unlike in previous years, the New Zealanders, who are bidding for a fifth successive Tri-Nations title, come into the competition as only third favourites behind South Africa and Australia, but they again proved their position in world rugby with a spirited 22-16 victory over the Wallabies last weekend.

Rokocoko, though, is confident they can build on that performance in what he expects to be a tough game against the defending World Cup winners.

He continued: “I’m excited really to get an opportunity to play against the Boks, who are world champs and have done extremely well against the (British and Irish) Lions.

“It is a big challenge for us, like that of playing Australia in a Test match. But it the biggest one of all is playing the Springboks at home.

“They’ve always been a physical team and they can dominate you if you don’t bring your game to them on the day.”

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