England winger Joe Cokanasiga is hoping his fresh perspective can help him force his way into Steve Borthwick’s World Cup squad.
Cokanasiga burst onto the international scene five years ago and was part of Eddie Jones’ World Cup squad four years ago, but injuries have meant he has picked up just a handful more caps since.
The Bath winger scored two tries in his single appearance in Japan against the USA, but missed much of the tournament due to a knee injury that has caused him regular trouble.
It was not until the summer of 2021 that Cokanasiga would play again for England, and he is still yet to appear under new boss Borthwick, but the winger hopes a new mentality developed through mindfulness can help him punch his ticket to France.
“Bittersweet is the right word,” reflected Cokanasiga. “I was grateful to experience my first World Cup at a young age. Having that knee injury taught me a lot afterwards, it’s taught be a lot now how to look after myself.
“It is a blessing in disguise that makes you more grateful for when you are training and playing.
“Sometimes before I have been playing for a long time and lost that gratefulness of being a pro rugby player and playing for England and Bath.
“I am doing a lot more mindfulness, what I did before was discover my ‘why’. I worked with Katie Mobed [performance psychologist] and the one thing I struggled with was finding my ‘why’.
“The mind stuff has helped me a lot, especially with this whole summer it has made me more determined and hungrier for it.
“One thing I got into was journalling, I try and journal before I sleep after a big week of training, a nice debrief.
“Writing down doesn’t work for everyone but for me I would definitely recommend it, especially for young men, we have a thing about not speaking to others.”
Cokanasiga’s new approach has been aided by improvements to life off the pitch, with the winger admitting perhaps he didn’t quite have the right balance previously.
The 25-year-old’s mum, Kitty, is on the mend following treatment for a brain tumour, while dad Ilaitia is back in the UK having initially been denied a return from Fiji due to controversial immigration rules.
Other changes have also seen the winger lose 4kg since the end of the Premiership season, with his new mindset ensuring Cokanasiga will leave no stone unturned in his bid to be part of the 33-player squad named by Borthwick on 7 August.
England’s Summer Series matches begin against Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday 5 August (kick off 5.30pm), with a return fixture at Twickenham Stadium scheduled a week later on Saturday 12 August (kick off 5.30pm).
England then travel to Dublin to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 19 August (kick off 5.30pm), before returning to Twickenham Stadium to play Fiji on Saturday 26 August (kick off 3.15pm).
“That [family situation] has helped a lot, especially as men tend to keep a lot of things in,” he added. “I think just writing things down just takes a weight off your shoulders. It is good before games; you just get more clarity for it.
“I was suffering from my knee, and I always thought rugby was the end of the world but then it puts things in perspective, there are bigger things in life going on.
“You get a lot more pressure than you deserve but something Katie has always said to me is ‘pressure is a privilege’, looking back I wish I knew a lot more so I could deal with it better.
“In the summer, the main thing for me was getting my body in the right shape. I lost some kilos which for me is hard to do in the off season. My girlfriend put me on a strict regime!
“Mentally I was a lot more driven that this was my shot, I have been in and out of the squad, this is my opportunity to get in so I had to do everything I could.”
The carrot for Cokanasiga is bigger than just selection for his second World Cup, with the winger dreaming of being able to have his whole family out in France to watch.
There is also the small matter of an upcoming fixture against Fiji, where Cokanasiga was born, at Twickenham, a game that would complete a circle in the winger’s career.
“My ‘why’ is always my family,” he said. “I would love my family to be there. Luckily, my mum came out [to Japan]. My main one is my niece; she has got here passport now.
“You forget that you play for yourself too, I always play for that young Joe that wanted to be in that World Cup.
“I always think back to the 2015 World Cup where I was a mascot for Fiji, and I stood there and thought I want to do this; I want to play at Twickenham. I always look back and play for the young Joe.”
Tickets are available by visiting Englandrugby.com with prices for the England v Wales fixture starting from £40 adult, and from £35 adult for England v Fiji.