Rugby soldier dedicates England try to military
A lone bugler played the Last Post as the stadium fell silent to remember those who have lost their lives in conflict, including 27 England international players who were killed in World War I.
Prince Harry, who completed two tours of Afghanistan during his 10-year Army career, was in the stands to support England who wore red poppies on their shirts.
So it was fitting that a serving soldier, Lance Corporal Semesa Rokoduguni, scored the try that secured the 21-8 victory on what was otherwise a frustrating day for his team.
“To get over and score a try, on Remembrance Day, that means a lot,” said Fiji-born Rokoduguni who is still attached to the British Army as a reconnaissance driver of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
“I dedicate my try and the win to my regiment and the boys out there.”
The pre-game tribute was particularly poignant for Rokoduguni who, just a week into a six-month 2011 tour of Afghanistan, witnessed a colleague lose both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device.
“A couple of my mates out there have been through quite a hard time, even in the regiment. Some of the guys were casualties out there, so for me to be out there representing them made it an emotional day for me.
Rokoduguni, 30, joined the Army as a 19-year-old in 2007, following a proud military tradition in his family that stretches from his great-great grandfather to his father, Ilaitia, who is a staff sergeant with the United Nations peacekeeping force.
After some eye-catching performances for the Army’s rugby team, including a hat-trick against the Navy at Twickenham, young Rokoduguni was offered a professional contract by Bath in 2012 and, just two years later, made his England debut against Fiji, the country of his birth.
“It says on my contract that I’m a soldier first and a rugby player second,” said Rokoduguni who, despite his busy rugby schedule, tries to spend as much time with the Army as possible.
“Before the season started I went up there [Scotland] for a couple of days because we used to deal with tanks, but now we’ve moved to Jackals so I had to get used to those new vehicles.
“I won’t get up there again until the end of the season. I’ll do a couple of courses and basically be a soldier again.”
Ready for any opportunity
Rokoduguni was called back into the England squad this Autumn for the first time in 12 months thanks to an impressive run with Bath which saw him score seven tries in as many games.
He came on as a replacement for the concussed Mike Brown early in the match at Twickenham and his second-half try was one of very few highlights in an underwhelming performance by the world’s second best side.
The Lance Corporal has now scored in each of his three international appearances and he hopes that he’s done enough to retain his place for Saturday’s game against Australia.
“All I can do now is focus on the things I can control; my performance on the training field so that I keep banging on the door,” he said.
“I will review my stuff from [the Argentina game]; things I need to work on and improve, then train as hard as I can. I have to be ready for any opportunity that comes across.”
It was England’s 11th consecutive home victory but they struggled to create chances and Argentina, who missed five penalty kicks, enjoyed the majority of possession in what was described as a “grindathon” by their head coach, Eddie Jones.
At one point during the match, angry Jones was caught by TV cameras launching a foul-mouthed outburst in the stands after a mistake by his team — he was asked about it in the post-match news conference.
“We want to play good rugby so I don’t think there’s any reason why I shouldn’t be frustrated,” said Jones, who has said from day one that his main focus is winning the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Value for money?
Jones reacted angrily when asked if fans paying roughly $131 for a ticket got value for money from the performance.
“I’m not an economist, I’m not a businessman,” Jones said. “All I do is coach a rugby team and I try to get them to play as hard as we can. We might not have played well, but we played hard so I’m disappointed in the question.
“I’m sorry guys if you didn’t think we tried. I’m really disappointed.”
Australia up next
Two of England’s Lions stars, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, were rested for the Argentina game but are expected to return for the biggest test of the autumn against Australia, who beat Wales 29-21 in Cardiff on Saturday.
Jones, 57, who was born in Australia, expects his players to be “much better” after another week’s training and he’s relishing the prospect of playing the Wallabies, a side he coached between 2001 and 2005.
“We’re hoping Australia bring their absolute best game so we can see where we’re at,” said Jones who has lost just one of his 21 games as England coach and beaten Australia four times in that period.
“We’ve got a very clear vision of how we want to play against them, it should be fun. I’m obviously not going to share it with you though.”