How Po­cock re­built him­self to be­come game’s lethal preda­tor

Daniel Schofield dis­cov­ers how Aus­tralia’s break­down ex­pert came back bet­ter than ever

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 -

As a fan of David At­ten­bor­ough doc­u­men­taries, David Po­cock will ap­pre­ci­ate the anal­ogy that Lau­rie Fisher, his former men­tor at the Brumbies, draws be­tween the Wal­la­bies back row stalk­ing turnovers and a co­bra on the hunt.

The snake does not chase af­ter every­thing but bides its time, wait­ing for the right tar­get. When the prey does come within range, it strikes with such ve­loc­ity and fe­roc­ity that its vic­tim is ren­dered de­fence­less. New Zealand’s defence of their World Cup ti­tle will de­pend to a large ex­tent on their abil­ity to deal with this tour­na­ment’s apex preda­tor.

Po­cock has stolen a ball once ev­ery 21 min­utes in this World Cup, win­ning a to­tal of 14 turnovers from the four games he has started in the No 8 shirt. No other player has man­aged dou­ble fig­ures. Even those eye-catch­ing statis­tics be­lie the full ex­tent of his con­tri­bu­tion. “It is not just the amount of balls that he steals, but the num­ber of balls that ev­ery­one else steals be­cause of him and the slow­ing down of the ball or win­ning a penalty if you don’t get the pil­fer,” said Phil Waugh, the former Aus­tralian open­side flanker, who Po­cock made his de­but along­side in 2008.

To un­der­stand how the 27year-old has be­come so dev­as­tat­ingly ef­fec­tive at the breakdown you have to go back to his dark­est days, the back-to-back knee re­con­struc­tions that kept him out for two years be­tween 2013 and Jan­uary this year. He used his in­juries as an op­por­tu­nity to re­build him­self.

Just to come back at all was re­mark­able in it­self, ac­cord­ing to the man who nursed him through his re­cov­ery, Brumbies re­hab trainer Ben Ser­pell. “Any ACL [an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment] in­jury is a ca­reer-threat­ener,” Ser­pell said. “A lot of peo­ple may have had sev­eral ACL in­juries but I can’t think of any­one who has had them so close to­gether and made a full re­cov­ery like David has. The sec­ond one hap­pened al­most 12 months to the day af­ter his first set of surgery.”

The re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process was dis­tinctly unglam­orous. A lot of time was spent shar­ing fa­cil­i­ties with a gym­nas­tic class full of 10-year-old girls. There was also a lot of pool work, run­ning up and down stairs of apart­ment com­plexes and pad­dle board­ing. “We in­tro­duced a rugby ball into some of our drills but it was more dec­o­ra­tive than any­thing,” Ser­pell says. Yet it was all done with a pur­pose. Po­cock al­ways had enor­mous up­per body strength with his Pop­eye-like fore­ams. Yet, as Fisher tells The

Daily Tele­graph, “when he first came to the Brumbies he was par­tic­u­larly weak through the ham­strings”.

By fo­cus­ing on build­ing up his ham­strings, glutes and his core strength com­bined with a lot of flex­i­bil­ity work, Po­cock has “be­come a far more bal­anced ath­lete”, ac­cord­ing to Fisher, now the Glouces­ter head coach. “It has en­abled him to be stronger and ef­fi­cient in what he does. His other great strength is his bal­ance. He can ac­tu­ally get his feet up un­der­neath you but still be in a strong po­si­tion to jackal. Whereas most peo­ple have to get their feet in the right po­si­tion be­fore they can jackal, he can do it from a num­ber of po­si­tions.”

Turnover steals have al­ways been a Po­cock spe­cial­ity and now he has got even bet­ter. “He senses when it is on,” Fisher says. “As a younger man he just flew into every­thing. Now he picks his spots. He has grown his un­der­stand­ing

‘I can’t think of any­body who has made a full re­cov­ery like David has’

and weaponry. He ac­cel­er­ates into break­downs in the per­fect po­si­tion. It is a sur­gi­cal strike. That’s where he gets his power from be­cause he can strike so quickly.”

So how do you stop him? With ex­treme dif­fi­culty is the gen­eral con­sen­sus. The clearout crew must re­act quickly and force­fully as England mis­er­ably failed to in their pool stage de­feat. Al­though Fisher is not in the busi­ness of giv­ing Ki­wis ad­vice, the most im­por­tant

fac­tor for New Zealand will be win­ning the ini­tial gain-line col­li­sions. “If you get dom­i­nated in con­tact then you pro­vide a static tar­get which is eas­ier to find,” Fisher said.

“What they will do is they will back them­selves to have good shapes in their game, carry with good leg drive and make sure sup­port play­ers are al­ways on hand. Even then you won’t shut him out of the game com­pletely – he is that good.”

‘It is a sur­gi­cal strike – that’s where he gets his power’

14 David Po­cock Aus­tralia 9 Leone Nakarawa Fiji 9 Thierry Dusautoir France 8 Agustín Creevy Ar­gentina 8 Fran­cois Louw South AfricaTurnovers won at Rugby World CupGreats of the mod­ern game: David Po­cock (left) and Ju­lian Savea have been in won­der­ful form in this World Cup

8 Ju­lian Savea New Zealand 5 Bryan Ha­bana South Africa 5 Gareth Davies Wales 5 Juan Imhoff Ar­gentina 5 Nehe Milner-Skud­der NZ

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