David Pocock: the Wallabies' 'Enemy Threat' to claim back the Bledisloe Cup

Alex Broun 18/08/2018
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Much of the Wallabies hope of re-claiming the Bledisloe is on David Pocock's shoulders

When Wallabies flanker David Pocock was a boy growing up in Zimbabwe he had two posters on his wall – one was George Smith and the other Stephen Larkham.

The posters were taken from a South African rugby magazine, so emblazoned across the picture of Smith were the words: “Enemy threat.”

However, even then Pocock didn’t see these Wallaby legends that way. They were already his idols.

But which one did he want to be – Smith or Larkham?

“I’m not sure,” he laughs, “I just wanted to be out there.

“At primary school I played pretty much the No8 and mostly five eighth (fly-half). I was pretty happy with either.”

It’s fitting that when Pocock made his Test debut less than a decade later the man he replaced that day in Hong Kong was the “Enemy Threat” from his bedroom wall back in Gweru – George Smith.

And the opponent – the same as this Saturday at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney – the All Blacks.

“Your debut is always special” he recalls, “playing against them (the All Blacks) in 2008.

“I think I only got eight minutes off the bench but to have a coach (Robbie Deans) who believed in you enough as an untapped player to pick for your first Test – against the All Blacks – and then to actually get an opportunity.

“That was huge for me leading into that Spring Tour and something you think about from time to time.”

Pocock doesn’t recall the score or even who he replaced.

“Was George still on?” he asks.

“You’re so wired, you’ve been sitting on the bench for seventy minutes. You just get out there…

“I probably ran around like a headless chook. I guess that’s the nature of it. You’ve got seven minutes to play a role and try to make an impact. I don’t remember the score to be honest.”

For the record the All Blacks won 19-14, thanks to a try a piece to Sitiveni Sivivatu and Richie McCaw, while for the Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell scored a double.

Young Wallabies (L-R) Ben Alexander, Pocock, Quade Cooper and James O'Connor back in 2008

Young Wallabies (L-R) Ben Alexander, Pocock, Quade Cooper and James O’Connor back in 2008

Although the details may be hazy one thing Pocock will never forget is the feeling of pulling on that famous gold jersey for the first time.

“That is a special memory”, the 30-year-old says.

“It really sinks in after a game when you look around and there’s Matt Giteau and George Smith, Stirling Mortlock and Nathan Sharpe – all these guys you’ve been watching play on TV since you were playing at primary school pretty much.”

He’ll also never forget the special welcome Smith gave him, even though the youngster who went by the name of “Bam Bam” (from The Flintstones) was soon to threaten his place in the run on team.

“George – he had my back,” remembers the Brumbies fetcher.

“He went out of his way to make me feel welcome. I remember getting picked ahead of him (against New Zealand in Tokyo in 2009) and he was the first one to shake my hand – that was the kind of guy he was.

“He was always wanting to share knowledge, make the team better.

“Now as an older player you want to be feeling that as well – passing on knowledge, trying to make the players around you better at what they do.”

George Smith (L) and Pocock (R) of Australia celebrate following victory over Wales in 2009

George Smith (L) and Pocock (R) of Australia celebrate following victory over Wales in 2009

There is one thing however that Larkham and Smith have up on Pocock – they won the Bledisloe Cup.

That is an honour the 60 Test veteran, about to embark on his eighth Bledisloe Cup campaign, is yet to experience.

Pocock more than anyone understands the challenge which faces Michael Cheika’s side.

“It’s always a huge game (against the All Blacks),” he explains.

“The challenge for us now is we are coming up against the No1 team in the world and they have been there for a very long time.

“There is a long history between the teams. You grow up watching Bledisloe Cup games – there’s definitely meaning there. You want to be playing at your best.”

The breakdown will be key on Saturday, as it is whenever these two nations meet.

“I think it’s always an important part of these games,” acknowledges Pocock.

“Both teams want to be playing on the front foot, want to get fast ball. And defensively are trying to stop the other team from having that fast ball.

“So both teams will be looking to defend well and slow the ball down or even steal it.”

Pocock’s challenge is even greater when you consider he is coming up against two of the best backrowers in the business – Sam Cane and All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

“They’ve been around for a while now and I’m sure it’s going to be a really good contest,” says Pocock.

But the Wallabies also have their own world class combination in Pocock and captain Michael Hooper.

“I love playing alongside Hoops,” smiles Pocock.

“We get on really well off the field and on the field it’s been a great challenge and relationship to find ways to be doing things better, and make that combination work.

“We’ve also got a lot more depth in the loose forwards now which is great. There’s a number of guys who can step up. That’s really healthy and great for the Wallabies.”

Michael Hooper (l) and Pocock in action during the 2015 Rugby World Cup against Fiji

Michael Hooper (l) and Pocock in action during the 2015 Rugby World Cup against Fiji

Pocock is also trying to add new elements to his own game, reawaken his inner Larkham that was born on those Zimbabwean playing fields all those years ago and play more of a linking role between backs and forwards.

“It’s been something I’ve been trying to work on,” he reveals.

“It was part of the reason for the move to the Brumbies (from the Western Force). To learn from someone like Stephen Larkham, when I made the move in 2013.

“Then I guess that was part of my decision making to play a season in Japan (where he linked with former Wallabies coach Deans) and work on that further.

“It’s a bit more faster, free-flowing game (in Japan) so you get a bit more of an opportunity there.”

But for Saturday Pocock and the rest of his team mates want just one thing – to get their Bledisloe Cup campaign off to a winning start, something they have done just three times in New Zealand’s 15 year dominance of the Cup.

“One of their hallmarks is playing for eighty minutes,” Pocock says of the All Blacks.

“So that’s got to be part of it (winning tonight). You have to be at your best for eighty minutes and making good decisions.

“The game’s often coming down to one or two turnovers that they capitalize on and score tries. I think that consistency is important.”

The Wallabies also must make the right split-second decisions.

“I think that teams that have a lot of understanding how they want to play,” he says, “and how the players around them play or their habits – you make better decisions.

“That’s a challenge coming out of Super Rugby into the Wallabies. Get those combinations working – and really spend time with each other and prepare well.”

But as the Men of Gold begin their mighty challenge tonight, Pocock will think back to the memories of those faded posters on his bedroom wall.

As he does every time he takes the field for the Wallabies, those former players will be with him.

“Obviously it’s a really proud history,” he says, “and when you’re running out there you’re wanting to play in a way that not only makes player who have gone before you proud but all supporters of Australian rugby.”

“Australians – and then obviously as an immigrant, there’s a bunch of people in Zimbabwe who now watch and support the Wallabies.

“That’s who you are hoping to do proud and hopefully play in a way that inspires the next generation of players, the future Wallabies.”

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What the Wallabies have to do to claim back the Bledisloe Cup after 16 long years

Alex Broun 16/08/2018
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George Gregan (r) and Matt Burke - the last Wallabies team to hold up the Bledisloe Cup in 2002

The last time the Wallabies held up the Bledisloe Cup Facebook hadn’t even been invented, it would be another five years till Twitter was up and running and the iPhone was still a germ of an idea floating around in Steve Jobs’ head.

The last Wallabies captain to hold up the Bledisloe was the great George Gregan and when he did current captain Michael Hooper was still in primary school.

It’s incredible to imagine it now but that was the fifth year in a row that Australia had held on to the famous Cup and the pain and misery was all on the New Zealand side.

But since that day in 2002, the Wallabies’ Bledisloe campaigns have been all black. To underline New Zealand’s dominance they have only lost to Australia four times in the last decade.

So what do the Wallabies have to do to end 16 long years of misery and bring back the Bledisloe?

Beauden Barrett goes over for the winning try in the 78th minute in Dunedin last year

Beauden Barrett goes over for the winning try in the 78th minute in Dunedin last year

Play for 80 minutes

If the Wallabies are to win the series they must dictate every moment of the game from the first to the last.

As Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley commented during the week, one thing you know about the All Blacks is that they will play for the entire 80 minutes and if Australia lose concentration or take their foot off the pedal for one instant, they will pay for it.

You don’t need to go too far back to find an example of that.

With the Wallabies leading 29-28 with time almost up in Dunedin last year Beauden Barrett cut through the defence to score the winning try.

Another is the final Bledisloe of 2014 in Brisbane. The Wallabies led with time elapsed on the clock before a converted try to Malakai Fekitoa stole the game away.

The Wallabies can hold the ball through 15 superb phases but if they leave the 16th ruck unprotected you can be sure the All Blacks machine will pounce and run 90 metres in the other direction to score.

Australia simply have to play mistake free footy.

They’ve done it before – last October in Brisbane when they donned the indigenous jersey for the first time and came out winners 23-18.

Bledisloe legends: George Gregan (r) chased by Richie McCaw

Bledisloe legends: George Gregan (r) chased by Richie McCaw

Be ruthless

As Gregan himself noted in the build-up if the Wallabies are to win they must be ruthless.

“It will take a relentless intensity and the ability to absorb and apply pressure,” he said, “and then when you’ve got them down you can’t let them get off the canvas, you’ve got to be ruthless.

“The All Blacks just don’t quit and find a way to win, so we need to do whatever it takes to find a way to win.”

And the Super Rugby, Rugby World Cup and Bledisloe Cup winning scrumhalf knows something about winning.

Adam Coleman feels the pain in Bledisloe 1 last year

Adam Coleman feels the pain in Bledisloe 1 last year

Win the first match

The Wallabies simply have to win the series opener.

If they fail to do that they head to New Zealand next weekend for game two at Eden Park, a venue the All Blacks have not been beaten at for 24 years.

There is a theory that the All Blacks don’t respond well to pressure but it is very rare that they have been placed under pressure, especially in the Bledisloe Cup.

Since the winning streak started in 2003 only twice have Australia won the first game – 2007 and 2015.

The last two seasons the Wallabies have been thrashed in the opening Bledisloe (54-34 and 42-8) to make the Cup’s fate a formality.

In both those matches the Wallabies started cold, trailing 32-3 at half time last season and an embarrassing 40-6 at the break in 2016.

To counter-act that this year the Wallabies played a well-attended internal trial – Cheika’s Choice against an Australian Super Rugby XV, so hopefully that will help them hit the ground running.

They need to.

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Sam Whitelock to bring up his century as All Blacks name team to face Wallabies

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Sam Whitelock will play his 100th Test against the Wallabies in Sydney

The All Blacks team has been named to play Wallabies in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test of the Rugby Championship at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday with lock Sam Whitelock to bring up his century of Tests.

“We’re all excited at what is shaping up to be another classic Bledisloe Cup encounter here in Sydney on Saturday night,” said All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen.

“We know that we have to earn the right to perform by preparing well and taking each moment that arises, and that mindset has been reflected in our preparation this week, which has been very good.

“The Bledisloe means a lot to this team and we have the opportunity to show just how much on Saturday night.

“As far as we’re concerned, neither team currently has possession of the Cup and if we want it, we’ve got to front up and take it.”

Turning to Whitelock, who made his Test debut against Ireland in New Plymouth in 2010, Hansen added: “On behalf of the team, we want to congratulate Sammy on what will be a very special night for him and his family. We’re all very proud of him.

“He’s been an outstanding contributor to this team for a long time, both on and off the field.

“To play one Test for the All Blacks is an achievement in itself, but to be good enough to be selected and play 100 Tests is a remarkable feat.

“In doing so, he will join what is a small group of very special All Blacks.”

Whitelock, who is still just 29, is fresh from leading the Crusaders to a second straight Super Rugby title and has lost just eight of the 100 tests he has played.

Hansen was also excited about the return of captain Kieran Read and lock Brodie Retallick.

“It’s also great to have Brodie and Kieran back after their lengthy absences,” he said.

” They both bring special qualities to the team and we look forward to seeing them produce that again in the black jersey.”

The matchday 23 is as follows (with Test caps in brackets):

  1. Joe Moody (34)
  2. Codie Taylor (32)
  3. Owen Franks (98)
  4. Brodie Retallick (68)
  5. Samuel Whitelock (99)
  6. Liam Squire (17)
  7. Sam Cane (55)
  8. Kieran Read – captain (109)
  9. Aaron Smith (74)
  10. Beauden Barrett (64)
  11. Rieko Ioane (16)
  12. Ryan Crotty (37)
  13. Jack Goodhue (1)
  14. Waisake Naholo (19)
  15. Ben Smith (67)
  16. Nathan Harris (13)
  17. Karl Tu’inukuafe (3)
  18. Ofa Tuungafasi (17)
  19. Scott Barrett (19)
  20. Ardie Savea (25)
  21. TJ Perenara (45)
  22. Damian McKenzie (15)
  23. Anton Lienert-Brown (24)

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