Zinzan Brooke believes Joe Cokanasiga has the talent to become a force for England at the World Cup but does not deserve to be compared to Jonah Lomu, his former All Blacks team mate.
Brooke was at Twickenham to see Cokanasiga help England defeat Italy and although the Bath wing failed to get on the score sheet, he picked up the Man of the Match award leading to Sir Clive Woodward to compare the him to All Black legend to Lomu, whose power running at the 1995 World Cup changed the face of the sport.
Rugby has been searching for the next “ Jonah Lomu” to make a similar world-wide impact, but that kind of comparison can be a millstone around the neck of any up and coming talent. Cokanasiga, who has two tries in four tests, has side-stepped comparisons and his family have urged fans and critics to think of him as “Joe not Jonah”. Eddie Jones, the England head, coach has described as “ridiculous” suggestions his young wing deserves that kind of billing and has now dropped him for the clash with Scotland on Saturday in favour of Jack Nowell. It is a move aimed at controlling the hype around the young wing.
Lomu, who tragically died at the age of just 40 in 2015, was the youngest ever All Black making his debut at 19-years-old against France in 1994 and score 37 tries in 63 test appearances. At 6ft 5ins and 18.7lbs, Lomu was both taller and heavier than Cokanasiga – 6ft 3ins and 17st 9lbs.
Brooke, who shared an Al Blacks dressing room in 16 tests with Lomu, including the 1995 Cup, said; “Joe must now knuckle down and the real test is to prove he can be a force at the World Cup. Get a Man of the Match against the All Blacks or Australia then happy days! I can’t believe Clive is comparing him to Jonah in a match against Italy – he shouldn’t be doing that because it’s disrespectful. You cannot compare him to Jonah at this moment in time.
“ In my opinion Joe didn’t deserve the Man of the Match against Italy but he showed some signs in the opening minutes with all the flashy stuff and I thought “that’s fantastic” and he will be a big problem for opponents. I wouldn’t say he is a direct comparison to Jonah but there are signs about his capabilities. At the end of the day you have to score tries and if Jonah had played against Italy he would have scored a couple.”
Brooke sees Ireland’s current patchy form as an example of what happens when too many plaudits are delivered too early and players take notice. “Ireland have got themselves into trouble by letting their feet get off the ground following the plaudits for beating the All Blacks and winning the Slam. Confidence is a massive thing but over confidence and believing you just have to rock up is not acceptable. Having said that the way England performed in Dublin then if they repeat that in Japan they can win the World Cup.
“In my career, I didn’t think about who had worn the All Black No8 jersey before, I just remembered why I had been picked and concentrated doing the same things. I know it is at a different level but you don’t want to complicate the story because the selectors have seen a quality in you that is better than someone else. Joe is learning and knows that coming off the line to make a tackle against Italy and leaving the guy outside him was a mistake and he should have respected the inside tackler. He jumped and got himself in no man’s land.
“It is better to have that happen now than in a knock-out game at the World Cup. “