Saturday 23 March 2019

Pocock set for one more journey into the wild

David Pocock with the black eyes he picked up against Argentina
David Pocock with the black eyes he picked up against Argentina
David Pocock after chaining himself to mining equipment in New South Wales
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

David Pocock peers out from behind his two black eyes and delivers the kind of line that spreads around the online world like wildfire. In the world of the mundane soundbite, the Australia vice-captain stands apart.

"I'm a big fan of wildlife docos," he said, referring to his preferred method of relaxing after games as revealed on his Twitter account. "Particularly David Attenborough, he's a big hero of mine. On Sunday, post-game recovery, a couple of Attenborough episodes, put my feet up. I was re-watching his Africa series which I think was 2013. If he wants to come to the final I'm sure we could organise some tickets. He's a legend."

Most of the listening hacks could happily have turned their dictaphones off there. No 'one game at a time' stuff here from the converted No 8 with a penchant for bold political statements.

Yet, for a 27-year-old who says the game of rugby doesn't define him, the Australia No 8 sure is willing to put his body on the line.

His face is an advertisement for the dangers of jackaling for the ball on the ground when a furious Argentina pack come hunting. It's the kind of image one imagines young rugby players hope their mothers don't see.

Yet here he is, battered, bruised and ready for the biggest match of his life. He will put his body on the line time after time, but it remains a game.

"That's been my approach," he says of his healthy detachment from his job. "I've absolutely loved the game of rugby and I'm so grateful for the opportunity that it's given me.

"But I'm very conscious of the fact that at the end of the game it's a game. It's there to be enjoyed, it can offer so much to us, but there's certainly a lot more to life than chasing a rugby ball.

"I like to consider myself more a lover than a fighter. A bit of a knock on the nose can't change that. It's relatively straight. My partner, Emma, says as long as I don't start snoring she's happy."

The Zimbabwean-born back-row has chained himself to a super-digger in protest at a local mine, while he also stopped a Super Rugby match to highlight an opponent using a homophobic slur. And while outside the game he is considered a refreshing presence, the focus in New Zealand will be completely on his rugby abilities and on preventing him having the kind of influence he has exerted throughout this tournament.

Concentrate

"We understand he's a good player," Keven Mealamu said yesterday. "You can't be too focused on him individually, there's so many other parts to the game and if we concentrate on one you won't be able to do the others.

"But we know he's an important part of them."

One of the best turnover threats in the game, Pocock's battle with Richie McCaw will be worth watching alone but his ability to turn a game in his favour is hugely impressive.

He is aware of his history too and knows just what playing in a World Cup final means.

"I was watching the 1995 final on my grandfather's farm in the low veldt in Zimbabwe," he recalls.

"I just remember how tense it was and then that drop goal. Half-time I think I was skateboarding up and down the ramp, using up energy, then I came in and had a watch. It was pretty special.

"It's incredibly exciting. As a kid, growing up playing rugby, the World Cup was the pinnacle and something I loved watching. There are a few World Cup memories that have stayed with me.

"To be playing on this stage is very special and to represent so many people all over the world; from a primary school coach in Zimbabwe to a High School coach in Brisbane - to me that is really exciting."

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