The two serious health scares that gave the Brumbies a valuable dose of perspective: Pocock

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten in Japan

Injured flanker David Pocock has described how life-threatening health scares for two treasured Brumbies in recent years helped the ACT players get a valuable sense of perspective about rugby - and subsequently improve as a team, too.

In what may or may not be the Brumbies' last game at home this year, Pocock is injured for the quarter-final against the Sharks in Canberra but he is hoping the team can send out on a victorious note a group of departing veterans, including Henry Speight, Rory Arnold and Sam Carter.

At the top of the list, though, is skipper Christian Lealiifano, who this week announced he would be moving on to play in Japan after 12 years with the Brumbies.

The team can can potentially play another home game if they win and the Chiefs beat the Jaguares, but Pocock said he hoped Canberrans turn out in force on Saturday night to farewell Lealiifano, the long-serving Brumbies captain.

'I don’t think we need any more motivation, it being a home quarter-final,” Pocock said. 

"But there is always that extra element. Someone like Christian, who has played his whole career here, he is the heart and soul of the current Brumbies team. 

"Someone like that deserves a really good send off."

The fact Lealiifano is leading the Brumbies into the finals, less than three years after was diagnosed with leukaemia, is remarkable enough.

But the 31-year-old is not only back playing rugby, he is in career-best form and firmly back in the running for Wallabies no.10 shirt at the Rugby World Cup, too.

"The adversity he has faced - he has been really honest about it, stayed positive and never shied away from being vulnerable with guys, in saying 'yeah, it’s been tough going'," Pocock said.

"And seeing how hard it has been for his family. To see him back playing like he is, in such good form, it’s inspirational actually. He is an amazing guy.”

Expanding on the impact of Lealiifano’s battle with cancer - and recovery - on the Brumbies, Pocock said the forced retirement of ex-Brumbies backrower Ita Vaea in the same year had also hit the club hard.

Vaea was advised to hang up the boots in 2016 at the age of 27 due to a potentially fatal blood-clot condition.

Both illnesses gave the Brumbies a strong sense of perspective about life and priorities, Pocock said.

"It’s very easy for the bubble of professional sport to feel like this is the most important thing in the world,” Pocock said.

"I think back to 2016 when Ita (Vaea) had to retire, and that really rocked the group. 

The Brumbies will be inspired by recently retired Ita Vaea on Saturday. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley"Everyone knows your time playing rugby is potentially pretty short but to see Ita have retire like that was hard for the group, and then it wasn’t long after that that Christian got sick. And that obviously is a whole other level. 

"In understanding that it is just a game, and that there are much bigger things in life, it frees you up in a way - I  dunno, it’s a strange thing to say - for it to actually mean more and to put more into it because you realise what an amazing opportunity it is to do what we do. 

"And that time is short and you want to make the most of it.”

Pocock has always been one to appreciate rugby’s place in his life although he’s the first to admit he’s been frustrated by a mysterious calf injury that’s kept him off the field for nearly all this season.

The decision was made to withdraw from Super Rugby recently and focus on rehabbing towards the Rugby World Cup.

The pleasing part for the Brumbies is not just that good backrowers have stepped up in his absence, but a surplus of good backrowers have stepped up.

Pete Samu, Tom Cusack, Locky McCaffrey, Jahrome Brown and Rob Valetini are all fighting for three starting spots.

"I would love to be out there but that’s not how it is,” Pocock said.

 "I’ll be supporting the guys and they’ve been going really well. The back row has been outstanding and there’s been plenty of changes in there, and rotation going on. We have got five blokes, all of them could start.

Unsure if they’ll play a semi-final away or at home, the Brumbies will officially farewell their departing players on Saturday night - including Pocock.

"There are a number of guys moving on and that’s the nature of rugby,” Pocock said.

"Every year you have a group of guys who will never play again with, with that group. So it is a special time and hopefully we can stretch that for a few more weeks.”

he Brumbies take on the Sharks at GIO Stadium, Canberra, on Saturday June 22, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.