Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says he was always confident David Pocock would be fit for the Rugby World Cup despite months of seeming uncertainty about the star flanker’s fitness.
Pocock played his first competitive rugby match in six months on Saturday night against Samoa, finally returning to action after battling a complex calf injury for much of the year.
The no. 7 initially injured the calf in a national training camp in January but it wasn't until he re-aggravated the issue playing for the Brumbies that weeks of rehab turned into months.
With each passing week, questions over Pocock's chances of returning ahead of the World Cup were asked and those grew even more frequent after he called time on his Super Rugby career mid-season to focus on making a comeback for the Wallabies.
Cheika had been reluctant to put a date to Pocock’s return but he said on Saturday night that was no indication that he ever doubted the Wallaby’s likelihood of making a pre-World Cup comeback.
“No doubt from me because I know the team I’ve got here around medical,” he said.
“The doc and our physios, they made some good calls and liaised well with the Brumbies in the back half of the season as well and together, we got it planned together.
“We didn't look to get him back at all for any games, we just thought, ‘Let's go milestone by milestone and keep looking at that,’.
“Knowing the character of the player, I had no doubt that he would be back.
Pocock's decision to put all his energy into working for a World Cup return this season appeared to have paid off after a solid performance in his comeback match.
Many fans would have been relieved to see Pocock walk off the field unscathed and the ACT flanker said he relished the return.
"It’s always good to get the first one out of the way," he said.
"Training’s been pretty tough so I think it translates pretty well - we've been trying to be pretty game specific with our training and working with Lukhan (Salakaia-Loto) and Demmo (Jack Dempsey), I thought we worked fairly well together and we'll keep working on that combination."
While Pocock was replaced with 15 minutes to go, Cheika said he felt he could easily have lasted on the field longer than that.
“Good, I felt like he could play longer than we probably planned to, he looked like he wasn’t showing any signs,” he said.
“It wasn't a huge ball in play time game but just to have his leadership and his footy presence out there.
“It'll take him a few games to get reacclimatised to the pace of things but he's a very quick learner, there's no doubt about that, so I'm sure he'll be back in his shoes soon enough.
“I think just to get him through that time off the back of what's happened so far this season's a big tick for us.”
Pocock admitted he had some concerns about the injury in the early days of his rehab but as time went on, his confidence in his chances of a return grew.
“Early on there was a bit of uncertainty but I was thinking about it this week,” he said.
“I've had so much support, the medical staff have gone out of their way and teammates, coaches, family and friends, incredibly grateful to have the support networks I've got.
“To get back is very satisfying but there's plenty to do over the next couple of months.”
Pocock’s return, and his combination with Salakaia-Loto and Dempsey on Saturday night, only adds another layer to Australia’s back row dilemma.
Salakaia-Loto, Michael Hooper and Isi Naisarani have been the incumbent back row this season but Hooper and Naisarani were rested from Saturday night's clash.
Dempsey was making his return from a shoulder injury alongside Pocock and was one of the better players for Australia.
Cheika said welcomed the competition for back row spots that was being created with the World Cup only days away.
“Good competition, I thought Lukhan had one of his better games too for this season. he's obviously seen the challenges,” he said.
“He got a few starts early on and now he's seen the challenges coming.
“So, everyone's looking to step it up and that's what we want. I think that gives us good options and creates competition inside the squad.”