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Rokoduguni ready for Test pressure

England debutant Semesa Rokoduguni draws parallels between life in the British Army and international rugby - with one vital exception.

Rokoduguni has been selected on the right wing for Saturday's QBE Series opener against New Zealand at Twickenham on the strength of the pace and power he has displayed in an impressive start to the season with Bath.

As a serving soldier with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Fijian-born 27-year-old was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011 and it took only a week to experience the horrors of war when a marine he was on patrol with lost both legs after stepping on a mine.

Since joining the England camp Rokoduguni has satisfied the curiosity of his new team-mates eager for stories from Afghanistan.

"They've been asking me questions about the Army and what it's like being out there," Rokoduguni said.

"I told them it is pretty similar to what you guys feel - the only difference is that here there is always a next time. Next week you can come back stronger and better.

"Out there in Afghanistan you have to be on top of your drills every single time because if you mess up that can cost someone their life."

Kyle Eastmond, who lines up at inside centre against the All Blacks, summed up the temperament of his Bath team-mate with the words: "The way he's been playing, I don't think he knows what pressure is".

It is a theme taken up by Rokoduguni, who insists his experiences in the British Army have left him well prepared for his rapid ascension to Test rugby after just two years at the Recreation Ground.

"It is similar to the pressure I felt out there in Afghanistan, especially in the field," Rokoduguni said.

"Out there in Afghanistan you had to be spot on with your drills, be punctual, dress correctly and be disciplined. You had to be alert every single moment.

"That sort of mentality fits in well on the rugby pitch. You need all those key points out there on the field.

"If you're not there on time you miss the opportunity to score a try and it can cost the team."

It was while playing in the British Army that his line-breaking ability first began to attract attention and after representing the Combined Services with distinction, he was quickly picked up by Bath.

Remarkably, at one point in his teenage years he could not even make the bench of his school side in Fiji and it was only much later in life that the career of professional rugby player entered the radar.

"Rugby wasn't really part of the plan. The plan when I was 19 was to join the Army, earn a living, send money home, support the family, go to half pension then full pension, then go back home," he said.

"But things changed; rugby started popping up and I was doing well, first with the Army, then with Bath and my goals started to change. Now the international call has come.

"I take pride from representing the Army and England. It's a massive thing, especially on Remembrance weekend.

"It's not just representing England, my family and Bath, it's representing the whole armed forces in Afghanistan, back in their units. I'm representing every single one of them."

Colleagues from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have issued a mixed response to his selection by England.

"I've had messages on Facebook and all that. Some of the lads have said, 'You deserve it, you've done well'," he said.

"But my unit is a Scots unit, so I think my team-mates are saying, 'Why are you playing for them? You should be playing for Scotland!'."

For all his professional and national pride, Rokoduguni's motivation against New Zealand in the first of four autumn Tests at Twickenham will focus on a powerful pre-match ritual.

"I'll have pictures of my son Iiaitia and my family with me. With that mentality I imagine all the family back at home watching me on the rugby field - if I'm not performing then I'll let them down," he said.

"This is on my mind - them watching the game and wanting to prove to the world and my family that I can do my best and be the best out there on the rugby field."

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