FORMER Red Rose international Topsy Ojo believes explosive winger Joe Cokanasiga could be the X-factor England need to go all the way at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The 21-year-old Bath Rugby star has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past 18 months, with his performances in the Premiership earning him an international call up.
He lived up to his billing by scoring a try on his debut against Japan in 2018, before putting in a man of the match showing as England thrashed Italy in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
And having already demonstrated the danger he poses to opposition defenders, Cokanasiga’s former London Irish teammate Ojo expects him to impress again on the world stage.
“I think having known him as well, Joe Cokanasiga is going to be important,” he said. “He’s had a whirlwind 12-18 months but he is in that team on merit, he is an absolute threat.
“I think he could have a huge say in how England do. Obviously guys like Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje will be key as well but I think Joe has that unknown talent.
“Although we know a lot more about him now, I think he has already shown that he’s a player who can really have an x-factor influence on their team and he will have a big part to play.”
Former Exiles winger Ojo, who hung up his boots for good at the end of last season, played twice for England and scored a brace on his debut against New Zealand in 2008.
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Eddie Jones’ men face one more Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Italy, before flying out to Japan for their opening game of the global tournament against Tonga.
They have already enjoyed impressive wins over Wales and Ireland in their previous warm-up encounters and Ojo is confident England are well placed to challenge in Japan.
“They have looked really strong in these warm-up games and I think it’s good that it’s quite a settled squad the guys all know each other really well which helps,” he said.
“We’re in really good shape now to go to Japan for the tournament as the warm-ups have gone really well. I think they will definitely get out of their group – that’s for sure.
“They have to be at least pushing on for the semi-finals and then once you get to that stage the pressure mounts, but it’s in their hands to try and go all the way.
“I’m very excited to see how they go and I think they are going to have a good tournament. I just can’t wait for it to get started now as there are so many good teams in contention.”
Ojo was speaking at the Guinness National Rugby Awards, which were created in 2015 and celebrate the best of rugby from grassroots to the very pinnacle of the game.
The awards, hosted at Twickenham Stadium, recognise clubs, players, coaches, volunteers, mini sections, supporters and many more people that make rugby the fabulous game it is.
And after watching the winners receive their accolades at the home of England Rugby, Ojo paid tribute to the awards for shining a light on the unsung heroes involved in grassroots rugby.
“Everything you see on TV at the elite side starts at this grassroots level so for guys to be up there celebrated, you can hear the cheers in the crowd, it’s just a great night,” he said.
“We are all here because of rugby, we’re all here to celebrate the grassroots level of rugby but also the whole game, it’s important we have this, it’s important to recognise people.”
The Guinness National Rugby Awards recognises the outstanding work done by coaches, players and supporters across the country. There is no other event which brings together the clubs and players from all the leagues in England, from grassroots to elite.www.nationalrugbyawards.co.uk