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Roko eyes role in Lancaster troops

Fiji-born British Army tank driver Semesa Rokoduguni is bulldozing towards a full England career, but a declaration of war would put everything on hold.

Bath's in-form wing has just won his first England Saxons call-up, but the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Lance Corporal's rugby duties are reviewed by the Army on an annual basis.

If Britain went to war, whatever the situation with Bath or England, the 26-year-old would be straight back on active service.

"When Army employees go onto a professional contract there are certain procedures that must be followed," Col Andy Deans, the Army's director of senior rugby, told Press Association Sport.

"So when someone like Semesa signs with a club the Army allows the employee to go away for a year, and that is subject to annual review.

"They take an abatement of pay, sign an agreement to remain under the Queen's regulations and then they are able to throw themselves into the challenge.

"But if the balloon goes up and we're going to war, then they have to come back, that's in the contract."

Rokoduguni starred in the Army's 31-31 draw with Newcastle Falcons in a training match at Browns sports camp in Vilamoura, Portugal in April 2012.

Then-Newcastle boss Gary Gold was so impressed with Rokoduguni's try-scoring turn that he invited the Suva-raised Army man for a trial at Kingston Park.

When South African coach Gold moved to Bath that summer, he convinced Rokoduguni to take a trial at the Recreation Ground.

After just one full season in the Aviva Premiership, Rokoduguni has forced his way into the England reckoning.

A knee injury will keep him out of action against Ireland Wolfhounds in Gloucester on Saturday, but he is expected to be ready for his debut against Scotland A on January 31.

Proud of Rokoduguni's exploits, rugby director Deans said the Army will do all they can to back his England bid, without giving up on him wearing service colours again.

Rokoduguni has toured Iraq and Afghanistan: now the Army see no reason why he cannot represent England at Rugby World Cup 2015.

"He was picked up about three years ago as a real talent for the Army and broke into the Sevens side," said Deans.

"He shone against Newcastle Falcons in that training match and then went on to score three tries against the Navy.

"Gary Gold went to Bath, and made a move for him then. Dean Richards really tried to get him to Newcastle too, but he went to Bath and signed that contract.

"Gary Gold had said all along he was capable of something special, and Bath have had real confidence in him. Of course it's a double-edged sword in terms of his availability for us, but we're extremely proud.

"We have a good relationship with Bath and will talk with [head coach] Mike Ford because we would want him to play in the games against the RAF and Navy, which would come after these England commitments.

"At the same time as England will host the Rugby World Cup, we'll be defending our Defence World Cup title. If Semesa keeps on going we won't see him for that, so it would be fantastic if he were to turn out for England instead.

"We will certainly help him realise his potential. Sport is an important part of Army life that boosts team building, resilience and physical robustness."

Rokoduguni is primed to become England's first Army representative since Tim Rodber won 44 caps between 1992 and 1999.

He would be the first of the Army's large Fijian contingent to win England honours, after following former Gloucester and Sale serviceman flanker Apo Satala into the Aviva Premiership.

With Samoa-born Manu Tuilagi and the Vunipola brothers of Tongan descent, routes into the England team are ever-widening.

RFU head of international player development Joe Lydon said that diverse lineage only reflects British society and globalisation.

The former rugby league international also drew parallels with Stuart Lancaster's rise from schoolteacher to England head coach.

"When people like Rodber came through the military it was more commonplace," Lydon told Press Association Sport.

"Professionalism and academies have slowed that, but if you've got the skill and ability you can still come through.

"Whatever your other profession, there's a route if you've got the ability.

"I don't think of Semesa as a Fijian, I think of him as a Bath player that's available to be selected, and who has ability.

"The same as I wouldn't think about Corbisiero, the Vunipolas, they are professional athletes who are selected.

"Stuart Lancaster came through the system, from teaching, and it's well documented how he went from the academy, Leeds, coaching, into the RFU, the Saxons and now to head coach.

"If you've got the drive and the ambition, and the ability, you'll get your opportunity.

"Semesa has his heart set on this. He's got the size, the power and the speed, and enthusiasm as though he was 18 because he's only just getting to grips with it all.

"We're as excited as Semesa is about all this: we've been watching him for a long time."


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