JWC allowed Pocock to hone leadership skills
By Tracey Porter
You could be forgiven for thinking that David Pocock has been
wearing the green and gold of the Wallabies for many a year, the
flanker having slotted so effortlessly into the back row over the
last 12 months and given many an opponent the odd sleepless night.
However, just two years ago Pocock was leading Australia's Under 20s at the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship in Wales, playing in the same squad as his now Wallaby teammates Quade Cooper and Will Genia.
The 22-year-old had long been tipped for a bright future on the international stage and made his Wallaby debut against New Zealand within months of returning from the Junior World Championship, benefitting from Robbie Deans' willingness to given youngsters their chance.
His selection for the first Bledisloe Cup match held on neutral soil in Hong Kong ironically came six years to the day his family arrived in Australia after walking off their cropping farm in Zimbabwe, the land of his birth.
"I guess it was a very good surprise," Pocock told Total Rugby Radio. "He took a couple of uncapped players on that tour and then I guess the great thing about Robbie is he is willing to give you guys opportunities.
An Australian legend
"I got one against the All Blacks in Hong Kong and it was a very special moment, getting your first cap for the Wallabies. I guess that is best case scenario, facing the All Blacks in a Bledisloe Cup match. It doesn't get much bigger than that. The whole week was such a big occasion and something I will definitely never forget."
Pocock managed only 13 minutes of test rugby on his debut tour, but he cemented his place in the Wallaby back row in 2009, often at the expense of centurion George Smith, playing in 13 of Australia's 14 tests and playing 616 minutes in total, scoring his first test try against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The Western Force star has long been seen as the natural successor to Smith - who retired from test rugby last year after 110 caps for his country - and a future Wallaby captain, but he is only too aware the boots of his predecessor in the number seven shirt are big ones to fill.
"George Smith, he is a legend of Australian rugby. He has been right up there with the best number sevens in the world for a long time now. I guess him leaving was a big shock to the rugby community over here and it does open up that spot now, but there were a lot of guys putting their hand up during the Super 14. I don't think anyone can really lay claim on it."
Many in the world of rugby would disagree with that statement.
A thorn in the side of many a scrum half with his power and agility around the breakdown, Pocock plays rugby because he enjoys it, relishing the opportunity to play with many of the same players he has been involved with since his arrival on Australia's east coast.
"I play rugby because I enjoy it and playing with guys who you have been with for so long and you get on with so well off the field, it makes a massive difference," explained Pocock, whose career has mirrored the likes of fellow Wallabies James O'Connor and Cooper.
Already with nearly 50 Super 14 appearances to his name, having made his debut for the Force in 2006, Pocock has mixed emotions from his Junior World Championship experience in Wales but the positives outweigh the disappointment at losing to England in their pool decider.
"It was special to captain the side and I guess personally it was a big step for me developing leadership skills and all that and working with the team," he recalled. "I really enjoyed it and I think the great thing about it is you get to play with guys who you went through school with and you have played with since however long.
"With age group tournaments, it is such a good opportunity to play against the best guys your age in the world. Obviously the competition was really tough and we felt pretty confident going into the tournament that we would do well and then we lost to England and they went on to the final.
"That was a bit disappointing but overall I guess to get that sort of experience when you are 20, playing other players who have now gone on and are playing for the All Blacks and Springboks and all the rest, I guess, is a real opportunity.
"It is a massive step up from the Under 20s to international rugby, but I guess it all gives you a bit more confidence and it is definitely a step up in intensity. At the Under 20 tournament there is a lot of talent going around … it is such a good opportunity for guys to go away and put their hand up and say I can perform under pressure on the world stage."
Pocock may currently be focusing on the tests against Fiji, England and Ireland over the next few weeks, but is excited by the prospect of trying his hand at Sevens, having been identified by Australia coach Mick O'Connor as a player with potential to excel in the sport, perhaps at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October.
"I have never actually played it [Sevens], but I was a lot of the tournaments and it looks really fun. I would love to be involved in something like that, so I guess the opportunity for the Commonwealth Games doesn't come around too often so I would definitely jump at that."
Given he will only be 28 come the 2016, when Rugby Sevens makes its historic debut at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Pocock also refuses to rule out making an appearance in Brazil.
"I think every rugby player in Australia will be putting their hand up for that, so it could be tough to get in. That is great that they have got Sevens into the Olympics, so it will be good to get rugby to an audience that hasn't really seen it before."