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Thursday 24 May 2018

Rokocoko: Mr Fixit Nacewa has the respect of opponents

Rokocoko in action against Munster this season
Rokocoko in action against Munster this season

It was supposed to be Dan Carter offered up to the print media by Racing 92 for a Champions Cup conference call.

A late switch meant it was Joe Rokocoko. One All Black for another. That is a measure of the spending and playing power of the French club.

The import of Donnacha Ryan has given Racing that Munster mongrel at the heart of the pack to play the foil to superstars like his second-row partner Leone Nakarawa.

"He's massive. It always seems like he is having a little meeting with someone, with players and coaches," giggled Rokocoko.

"We always give him a hard time, loving his rugby too much.

"He has been awesome for the group. It is the amount of experience he brings to the boys.

"He has enormous respect because what he says he does on the field."

The All Black cited Ryan's work ethic against Munster back in January in the U-Arena.

"There was a video clip of how our attitude should be against them in our last Pool game," he explained.

"It was the 76th minute, a restart from us, and you see this lock sprinting for the ball, passing out wingers, tackling, getting the ball back.

"At the end of the video, we were all told we always have to have the same attitude as Donnacha brings to the game."

There was a time when Leinster looked to the outside experience and influence of Isa Nacewa, a former team-mate of Rokocoko at The Blues in Auckland.

"His nickname for us was 'Mr Fixit' because any injury that might come in the backline, he could just fit in, covering from number 10-15," said Rokocoko.

"He was such a talented player he could adjust to any of those positions."

Since then, Nacewa has played with Leinster over ten years with a two-year hiatus in-between for 182 caps.

He came out of retirement for Leinster when his own hometown Blues tried and failed to get him the make a comeback.

"It just shows how much the club [Leinster] means to him," said Rokocoko.

"You think you've retired. The next thing, your former club gives you a little SOS - they need you.

"It shows the character of the person. Even the players from the outside can see the amount of respect he has."

On a personal level, Rokocoko wants to heal the wounds left from Racing's demoralising European Cup final defeat to Saracens in 2016.

Bernard Le Roux, Wenceslas Lauret, Eddy Ben Arous, Juan Imhoff, Carter and Rokocoko all started that day in Lyon, when they went down 21-9.

"It was almost like we had a feeling we were happy just making the final," Rokocoko said.

"We know we are a way better team than what we were before."

Rokocoko billed this as one of two last chances for this Racing playing group to repay the faith of the club with a first Champions Cup trophy.

They are not just coming to Bilbao to make up the numbers.

They are coming to be number one.

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