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Rokocoko Can Reclaim Black Jersey - Hansen

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Steve Hansen
Steve Hansen

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

London, Nov 20 NZPA - All Blacks attack coach Steve Hansen says Joe Rokocoko can win back his test rugby place -- provided he improves his kicking game and aerial skills.

Hansen welcomed news of Rokocoko's agreement to play for the Barbarians in the All Blacks' tour finale at Twickenham on December 5.

The 60-test winger, with 45 tries to his name, was overlooked for the All Blacks squad for the current tour after scoring a try in their 33-6 demolition of the Wallabies in Wellington in September.

Hansen insisted Rokocoko, who stormed onto the international rugby scene in 2003, was far from a spent force at test level.

"There's always a pathway back. He's 26 years old, Joe, and he's been a great player for New Zealand and scored a lot of tries," Hansen told NZPA.

"His game's probably not suited to the kicking game we've seen. He's got to look to add things into his game, so it doesn't matter if they're kicking the ball or running at him.

"To be fair he worked pretty hard at that during the Tri-Nations and did quite well at it, but we just saw this as an opportunity to have a look at these other guys.

"His job now is to have a big off-season and come back and play really well in the Super 14 and say 'hey, pick me'."

Other big-name players set to don the Barbarians jersey are Springboks Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield; Wallabies Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom; and Welshmen Jamie Roberts and Andy Powell.

Former All Black Jerry Collins is reportedly in negotiations with his Ospreys side for a release that weekend.

Rokocoko will likely mark All Blacks newcomers Zac Guildford or Ben Smith in the tour finale.

Hansen admitted a big game from Rokocoko at Twickenham wouldn't be an automatic ticket back.

"It will be interesting but it's pretty hard to judge anyone on just one game. You've got to look at the overall season and for Joe it won't matter too much what he does in the Baabaas game.

"If he has a great game it'll be good for him -- it may not be too good for us, he might score a few points -- but what we're really wanting to see is for him to have a great Super 14 and then he's going to put a lot of pressure on and say 'pick me'.

"Joe Rokocoko in top form is a player you want on our side. Let's hope he does that."

Guildford and Smith both impressed the coaches on their test debuts in Cardiff and Milan respectively.

Both possessed fullback's qualities which were now seen as essential for the modern-day winger.

"That's the way it's looking. For some time you've needed the qualities as a wing not only to score tries but also to defend like a fullback and have good aerial skills and good kicking skills. Both those young guys have got that," Hansen said.

"That's probably where Joe has got to improve his kicking game, it's probably not as a good a skill for him as the other two. "

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