Joe Cokanasiga rediscovering rugby identity as he prepares for England return
Joe Cokanasiga has admitted having to rediscover his true rugby identity when battling past his year-long knee injury absence.
The Bath wing will make his first Test start in 22 months when England host the USA at Twickenham on Sunday.
The 23-year-old suffered a serious knee injury during England’s 45-7 win over the USA at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and only now feels back to his very best.
The powerhouse finisher revealed he had to rebuild his confidence and mindset as he worked back to top shape, but now feels back to his old self.
“I think I’ve worked really hard, just to try to sort not only my knee, but also my confidence,” said Cokanasiga.
“I’d been out for a whole year and I didn’t have the best of seasons at the start.
“My form wasn’t great. I was just forcing stuff, I wasn’t playing the rugby I play.
“So I took a bit of time off and sorted everything out physically and mentally, gained trust back in the knee, and in myself.
“And towards the end I think I was starting to hit back my form. And now I’ve got an opportunity to do it again.
“I think it’s natural to need to work on confidence after an injury like that.
“When you’ve been out for so long, I was out for a year and a couple of weeks, you kind of forget, not how to play rugby, but the feeling of playing rugby.
“So just when you’re out there, looking back at it now, it wasn’t me playing.
“So I did a lot of work with (Bath sports psychologist) Katie Warriner, just to back myself again.
Now I just need to back myself, and just believe in myself.
“I kind of lost the reason why I play rugby.
“So now I just need to back myself, and just believe in myself.
“It’s really exciting, I feel like for me it’s been a long time.
“The last time I played was against the USA, so that feels a bit weird but it’s an exciting group. I’ve been thinking about it all a lot this week.”
London Irish lock Chunya Munga has suffered a knee ligament injury and will leave the England camp next week.
The 20-year-old had been drafted into Eddie Jones’ squad to build experience for the future, but now faces a spell on the sidelines.
Assistant coach John Mitchell believes the young second row will still take long-term benefits away from his stint with the senior squad.
“It’s always difficult for anyone to get an injury, even more so for a younger guy, because they’ve probably not experienced those kinds of injuries before,” said Mitchell.
“He’s a really bright young man who has a bright future ahead of him.
“What he’s learned in this programme is to basically become aware of how much more resilient he needs to become, the constant preparation.
“Not only the physical demands, but the emotional and mental demands it creates as well.
“So I think he’s learned a lot about that and certainly will become a better player as a result of being in here.”
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