'I'm a bit of a weirdo but I'm happy with that'

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

David Pocock is a self-described ‘weirdo’, but being different is no burden for the Wallabies flanker, who is set to mark another milestone on an utterly individual path this weekend.

Pocock will play his final Test for the Wallabies at Twickenham on Sunday (AEDT) before a 2017 sabbatical, but it could well have been his last match ever

The flanker has revealed he never really planned on playing beyond 28 years, the age he is now, and even thought taking a full year off might spell the end of his Rugby career.

"Once consumed by the sport in which he has starred for the better part of a decade, Pocock says other elements of his life have come to provide a release for him."

“It's (Rugby) just something that I really enjoy and I've put a lot of work into but I think the more time you spend on something and the closer you are to it, you get to see the other side of things, you get to see the toll it takes on guys' bodies, all the guys who come and go and don't quite get the opportunity or don't quite make it,” Pocock says.

“So, it's certainly something that I really enjoy but I think like everyone I'm interested in other things and I feel pretty lucky to be able to take some time off to be able to pursue them and then get back into Rugby.”

Consecutive knee injuries robbed him of two years of his career but at the 10-year juncture, he feels a year away will be refreshing for his mind and body, priming himself for a tilt at another Rugby World Cup, this time in Japan in 2019.

“In my head, 10 years was always a pretty good chunk of time and then I figured it would probably be time to move on,” Pocock said.

“I don’t know why I thought that, but having the two years out with injury, getting back into it last year and really enjoying being part of this Wallaby setup, I’m really keen to get to the next World Cup.

“I figured having some time off next year was, in my mind, probably the way to do it, to  freshen up physically and mentally and then back myself to get back into some form.

“Being out injured you realise how quickly it can all change and I certainly want to make the most of the opportunities that I do have.” - David Pocock

New Zealand stars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter both took breaks in their careers and Pocock says it will become more common, with the demands on Test players intensifying.

“My first few years of professional Rugby, I was totally consumed by it but I don't know how sustainable it is,” he says.

“I think most of the guys in the Wallabies have got a pretty good balance. You have to - the program's so full that if you don't, it'd be pretty unsustainable.”

There is depth in Australia's backrow stocks at the moment but Pocock's loss will be keenly felt and Wallabies captain Stephen Moore says the team wants to send him out on the best note possible in London.

"I think for him personally, he'll want to go out in the right fashion," Moore said. "Also for us, as his teammates, we want to send him out in the right fashion.

"He's been a big contributor to the team this year and he's obviously made the decision to take some time off, so we want to make sure it's a good finish up for him."

His year away won’t be entirely removed from Rugby, with Pocock signing with Japan’s Panasonic Wild Knights and working with Robbie Deans, in the knowledge that a year away might just dim his desire to return.

“Thinking about the year off, I kind of felt like if I took a full 12 months off, I’d probably never come back."- David Pocock

After playing his first season in Japan, Pocock and partner, Emma, will base themselves out of South Africa, undergoing a range of conservation courses and projects with Australian and South African NGOs.

Pocock wants to head to his grandfather’s farm in Zimbabwe, a site that the 80-year-old has been fighting to keep for almost two decades.

His grandfather's determination and grit inspires Pocock.

“He’s a tough old bastard and he’s fought really hard,” he said.

“He’s spent the last 15 years in and out of court, trying to hold on to his farm so that's pretty admirable.

“He’s got a real love of the land and he’s not going anywhere. That’s kind of what he’s doing with his life at the moment - trying to hold on.”

Dabbling in a number of different avenues, Pocock hopes, will give him some clarity about where he might go in his post-Rugby days, which are nearing despite his three-year deal.

“There’s a number of things I’m involved in and really interested in - the conservation stuff in Zimbabwe and the intersection of community development, conservation, livestock around there.

“I guess I’m just going into next year with an open mind and it’ll be a real treat not having that preseason looming." - David Pocock

Pocock wants to continue the charity work he is involved with and won’t be afraid to take a stand on social injustice, as he has throughout his life.

His is a mentality starting to be reflected among a new generation of more conscious athletes, though not always well-received, as Colin Kaepernick’s advocacy in recent times shows, with the NFL star spurned over a decision not to stand when the American national anthem played to protest racial injustice

“That (Kaepernick's stand) was courageous. I mean, I really admire someone like that who takes that sort of stand. I think it does come back to that line of sports people just being sports people and just toeing the Michael Jordan line - [the idea] ‘Republicans buy sneakers too’,” he says.

“I think it's so important that athletes are taking a stand because sport can be such a powerful vehicle in society to break down prejudice, to allow people to be part of  a community.

“As a white Zimbabwean moving to Australia, there weren't that many barriers. I had a funny accent, [but] I was white so I kind of fit in. I still felt like a bit of an outsider.

“Once you're out on the Rugby field you're all equal. Compare that to a Black Zimbabwean friend in Australia - he had a totally different experience just because he was black.

“I think sport can be incredibly powerful when people do make a stand and try and make it more inclusive. So, I really love seeing people like him doing what he's doing." - David Pocock

Pocock sees disillusionment in the political systems around the world and it’s speaking of the flaws where he is most candid, a world far away from Rugby.

“I think there's such a need for people to begin to recognise how much we have in common,” he said.

“It probably sounds too idealistic but I don't know, the system clearly doesn't seem to be working ... so I think you're going to see more and more people beginning to stand up and citizens being citizens not consumers and actually making a stand.

“There's hundreds of thousands all around the world doing it. We just need more people to get involved.”

As Pocock strives to remind people of their commonalities, it’s his differences that have endeared him to Rugby fans and as he embarks on an Australian first, it’s another point of variation.

“I'm a bit of a weirdo so I'm happy with that, that's okay.”

Australia takes on England at Twickenham on Sunday, kicking off at 1.30am AEDT, LIVE on SBS and beIn Sport (Foxtel Channel 515).