The sabbatical that paid off for David Pocock

When you put in the type of performance David Pocock delivered against Ireland last weekend, it becomes a little difficult to comprehend the Australian back-rower believed taking his one-year sabbatical from the game was something of a career risk.

Yet, as has been well documented, there is more to Wallaby #829 and Pocock was determined to gamble that his desire to broaden horizons outweighed the dangers of never being able to add to the 66 Test caps he had already collected.

Last Saturday at Suncorp Stadium confirmed he had made the right choice, Pocock returning to the gold jersey for the first time in 18 months and looking as if he had never missed a minute’s training as he tore into the breakdown and caused havoc on Irish ball, winning penalties, turnovers, and generally making a nuisance of himself as Australia took the opening game of this three-Test series 18-9 in Brisbane.

“You are always going to have those thoughts, those doubts,” Pocock said of his comeback. “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.”

The gamble paid off. 

“Pocock had his cake and ate it too. He had walked away from rugby to pursue his interest in animal conservation and agriculture in the land of his birth, Zimbabwe, then still suffering under the regime of President Robert Mugabe.

After five months with Super Rugby franchise the Brumbies, the 30-year-old was right up to the pitch of a high-intensity Test match.

“It was something I wanted to do, in rugby terms it was a risk,” Pocock said, before acknowledging it could have easily backfired. “Yeah, yeah, but it was something I really wanted to do, six months away from rugby.

“We based ourselves in Zimbabwe, I guess we hadn’t been back there before that for more than a few weeks, it was challenging, it was sort of before the President resigned, so it was pretty tough going economically. The country was struggling.

“We were trying to farm, trying to sell tomatoes, no one had money, the markets were not doing that well.

“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 (property) 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 roots in southern Africa make for yet another culture thrown into the melting pot in the Wallabies dressing room, where there is plenty of Pacific Island ancestry, white Australians of European heritage and those of aboriginal descent all playing as a team under head coach and the son of Lebanese immigrants Michael Cheika.

“It is such a mix of cultures and personalities and I think that is 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,” Pocock said.

“What (the dressing room) 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.

“We’re living with each other. You spend a lot of time with each other, the rugby content obviously takes up a lot of the time but the other times at dinner and just hanging out, you talk about various things, everything really.

“It has been a real focus since Cheiks came in as coach, where we really honour where people are from, and what they bring, to try and understand each other.” The idea is that understanding will transfer onto the pitch in terms of performance and Pocock recognises that it would be foolish not to expect Ireland to come out fighting in their mission to save the series when the second Test gets underway at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Saturday.

“They probably will make changes, I don’t know for certain, but they have a lot of experience they can bring in, up front, firstly, then also with (Johnny) Sexton.

“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.”


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