David Pocock takes up where he left off: right in the middle of things
Australian flanker shows he still has tons to offer after 18-month international sabbatical
Australia flanker David Pocock tackles Ireland hooker Rob Herring during the first Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA
Always one to march to his own beat, David Pocock has been refreshed and rejuvenated by a year’s sabbatical from the game, spent mostly on a farm by a riverbank in his country of birth, Zimbabwe. And how it showed when he bridged an 18-month gap in his return to Test rugby against Ireland last Saturday.
Pocock hadn’t played for the Wallabies since their defeat to England in early December 2016 at Twickenham, and having had plenty of time to consider how much playing for Australia meant to him, he was as good as ever. Akin to players such as Brad Thorne, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, it’s clear that Pocock can again be a force up to next year’s World Cup and beyond.
Pocock was hugely instrumental in the 18-9 win in the first Test in Brisbane. A rock in defence with 15 tackles, and two missed, he was a thorn in the Irish side at the breakdown. Although he was twice penalised for two of Joey Carbery’s three-pointers, he won a couple of clean turnovers, and save for one savage clean-out by Bundee Aki, he was forever contesting or slowing down ruck ball.
He was first on the scene to secure ruck ball when Rob Kearney misjudged Will Genia’s box kick before the Wallabies struck in the far corner through Bernard Foley. He also, of course, stormed onto Genia’s pass in the nine-phase attack from the tap penalty for the match-winning try before departing soon after.
Michael Cheika craves work-rate from his players described Pocock’s over his 74 minutes as “off the charts”, while revealing: “We had to drag him off. He was cramping up in both calves. He wouldn’t come off and we had to order him off in the end.
“It was good to be back out there,” Pocock said. “Good to start off with a win but I think they’re not number two in the world for nothing. They will be a much improved team in Melbourne. We have to be better in the second game for sure.”
As with their 10-12 combination and both wings, Pocock interchanged with debutant Caleb Timu, often taking the latter’s number eight role off the base of the scrum, while dovetailing and back in harness with fellow loose forward Michael Hooper.
“Yeah, it’s something you are always wanting to improve. I thought Caleb [Timu] was great on debut. I love playing alongside Hoops and we’ve been working on that this week; trying to get the balance, trying to get the talk around the field and making sure we’re filling the roles. Then when Pete [Samu] came on he definitely made an impact. He’s a class player too.”
The Wallabies physicality was hailed by both sides, not least by Irish captain Peter O’Mahony, and Pocock said: “It’s something that’s crucial at this level. Test matches are physical and the games are often won and lost there. Ireland are a big side. I thought they were also very physical. I’m sure game two is going to be the same.”
The way he describes his time by a riverbank in Zimbabwe, Pocock was quite removed from rugby, although it did give him time to reflect on playing for the Wallabies again.
“There was a fair bit going on over there – it was certainly a break.
“You thought about it from time to time and I guess you think about what an incredible opportunity it is to represent Australia and as an immigrant I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.
“So to be able to pull on the green and gold and represent Australia and get out there and do your best and know that you’re also representing so many people in Zimbabwe who have been part of the journey. It’s a huge honour and something I certainly don’t take for granted.”
Asked what was the most obscure place he watched a Wallabies Test or heard one of their results, Pocock revealed he didn’t watch a game.
“There were a couple of times when we were on the farm and didn’t have any coverage and one of my cousins was texting me through updates. That was in June, so I didn’t actually see any of the games but I got a few updates.”
Even Pocock himself wondered how his return after such a long absence might pan out.
“Yeah, it was a huge challenge. I mean, they are a fantastic team. I watched them through the Six Nations and then obviously Leinster have had a cracking season, so we knew it was a big challenge.
“I guess you back your preparation. You back the work that you’ve put in and once you get out there you’re just doing your best and enjoying and seeing what happens.”