Cokanasiga has long been on Jones’s radar, but only began to take his international aspirations seriously as recently as England’s pre-series camp in Portugal last month, for which the Fiji-born flyer was “like a different guy”, according to Jones. “It was like someone had put a new person inside the same body. He is really driven.”
Such was Jones’s desire for a big runner, he took a punt on the 6ft 4in, 19st winger for the 2017 tour of Argentina, when he was only 19 and had not played a single minute for his then-club, London Irish. At that stage, Jones added, “he had no understanding of what it takes... now he has that strong desire”.
Since Portugal, Jones had ear-marked this game for a debut for Cokanasiga, who has excelled since joining Bath this year.
“He’s pretty excited,” he said. “He’s a quite a shy boy, but he’s increasingly come out of himself. There’s something a little bit special about him, so we’re looking forward to seeing him play. He’s got power and he’s got pace. Japan’s wingers are very good, so he’ll have to be at his best.
“I think it’s always handy to have one big winger that can dent a line — and there aren’t a lot of those playing rugby in England. We saw Joe playing for the Under-20s and took him on the Argentina tour. We wanted to see what he had; which wasn’t much, at that time. He’d basically run out for training and was exhausted.
“But he has worked really hard at his game, he has changed clubs and shown a real desire to be a Test player. We are happy to give him the opportunity this week.”
Alec Hepburn, who starts at loose-head prop, was glowing in his praise of Cokanasiga.
“Players like Joe are few and far between,” he said. “I’m just thankful I don’t have to play opposite him. Watching him play for Bath, you can see the calibre of player he is: not only very physical, but very agile for his size.”