Gifted Pocock always aware of the bigger picture
Zimbabwe-born star’s sabbatical has not affected his ability to impress at highest level
David Pocock: “Both teams know they can get better. The run Ireland have had, they’re going to be a lot better this weekend and we know that, we are also going to have to step up.” Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The Wallabies have a somewhat different attitude to the media than Ireland. Granted, it’s a harder sell, not least in Melbourne, where Aussie Rules does just that, and rugby union scarcely warrants a footnote. Their players are more accessible, and they operate on the basis that you can never have too much of someone as interesting and articulate as David Pocock.
And they’re probably right. So it was that scarcely halfway through the second week of a three-week series, and Pocock was making this third appearance in front of the media already.
He was born in Zimbabwe, where he grew up on a farm owned by his family, and he was asked to revisit his decision to return to his homeland last year. He acknowledged it was a risk to his rugby career.
“But it was something I really wanted to do, six months away from rugby. We based ourselves in Zimbabwe. We hadn’t been back there before that for more than a few weeks. It was challenging. It was before the president [Robert Mugabe] resigned, so it was pretty tough going economically. The country was struggling,” he recalled.
“We were trying to farm, trying to sell tomatoes. No one had money, the markets were not doing that well. So it was a bit of an eye-opener but it has got a special place in my heart. I love it, I love the land, love the people and I guess at the end of the day, if you are a Zimbabwean, everyone is a victim in some ways.
“There were the cycles of dispossessions. I guess now it is what you make of it. I am optimistic about the future of Zimbabwe and I think a lot of people, those in Zimbabwe, those Zimbabweans living abroad, are also optimistic.”
Pocock’s family originally fled Zimbabwe during a period of heightened unrest owing to the Zimbabwean government’s land redistribution campaign. They migrated to Brisbane in 2002, when he was 14.
Pocock is not unique in having a back story worth recounting, even if he is more than adept at discussing it, in a Wallabies squad in which only five players of last week’s 23 have both an Australian mother and father.
“I think one of the things about sport is that it breaks down those barriers and, despite what a lot of politicians would like you to believe, we have got a lot more in common,” he says.
“What this place [squad] shows is how up close it is very hard to hate people. Different backgrounds, yes. Different cultures, again yes. But what makes this group special is that everyone brings their little approach to life.”
But as regards his return to Test rugby last Saturday after a self-imposed, 18-month hiatus, Pocock admits to harbouring doubts.
“It’s human, being able to sit with that and acknowledge those doubts, and be able to know that you have prepared well, and I guess back your ability to step up, when your team requires you to. I guess that’s my approach. The more you try to rid yourself of any of those thoughts, or suppress them, the more they dominate. It is a matter of being able to live with a bit of ambiguity, where you can have nerves, have doubts but you can also be very confident.”
He expects Ireland to restore Johnny Sexton and other experienced front-liners for the Melbourne clash , and adds: “Both teams know they can get better. The run Ireland have had, they’re going to be a lot better this weekend and we know that, we are also going to have to step up. That is the beauty of the three-game series, you not only have to improve your own game but also look at what the opposition might try and surprise you with.”