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Rugby World Cup: Bruised Australian David Pocock ready for biggest clash of his life against New Zealand

By Ruaihdri O'Connor

David Pocock peers out from behind his two black eyes and delivers the kind of line that spreads around the online world like wildfire. In the world of the mundane soundbite, the Australia vice-captain stands apart.

"I'm a big fan of wildlife docos," he said, referring to his preferred method of relaxing after games as revealed on his Twitter account.

"Particularly David Attenborough, he's a big hero of mine. On Sunday, for post-game recovery, I watch a couple of Attenborough episodes and put my feet up. I was re-watching his Africa series which I think is from 2013. If he wants to come to the final I'm sure we could organise some tickets. He's a legend."

Most of the listening hacks could happily have turned their dictaphones off there. No 'one game at a time' stuff here from the converted No.8 with a penchant for bold political statements.

Yet, for a man who says the game of rugby doesn't define him, the Wallabies ace sure is willing to put his body on the line.

His face is an advertisement for the dangers of jackaling for the ball on the ground when a furious Argentina pack come hunting. It's the kind of image one imagines young rugby players hope their mothers don't see.

Yet here he is, battered, bruised and ready for the biggest match of his life - Saturday's World Cup final against New Zealand. He will put his body on the line time after time, but it remains a game.

"That's been my approach," he said of his healthy detachment from his job. "I've absolutely loved the game of rugby and I'm so grateful for the opportunity that it's given me.

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"But I'm very conscious of the fact that at the end of the game it's a game. It's there to be enjoyed, it can offer so much to us, but there's certainly a lot more to life than chasing a rugby ball.

"I like to consider myself more a lover than a fighter. A bit of a knock on the nose can't change that. It's relatively straight. My partner, Emma, says as long as I don't start snoring she's happy."

He has chained himself to a super-digger in protest at a local mine, while he also stopped a Super Rugby match to highlight an opponent using a homophobic slur, yet while outside the game he is considered a refreshing presence, the focus in New Zealand will be completely on his rugby abilities and on stopping him having the kind of influence he has exerted throughout this tournament.

All Blacks veteran Keven Mealamu said yesterday: "We understand he's a good player.

"You can't be too focused on him individually, there's so many other parts to the game and if we concentrate on one you won't be able to do the others.

"But we know he's an important part of them."

One of the best turnover threats in the game, Pocock's battle with Richie McCaw will be worth watching alone but his ability to turn a game in his favour is hugely impressive.

He is aware of his history too and knows just what playing in a World Cup final means.

He recalled: "I was watching the 1995 final on my grandfather's farm in the low veldt in Zimbabwe.

"I just remember how tense it was and then that drop goal. Half-time I think I was skateboarding up and down the ramp, using up energy, then I came in and had a watch. It was pretty special.

"It's incredibly exciting. As a kid, growing up playing rugby, the World Cup was the pinnacle and something I loved watching. There are a few World Cup memories that have stayed with me.

"To be playing on this stage is very special and to represent so many people all over the world; from a primary school coach in Zimbabwe to a High School coach in Brisbane - to me that is really exciting."

Meanwhile, former England target Wayne Smith has been hailed as a driving force in New Zealand's bid to make history by retaining the World Cup.

Much-vaunted defence specialist Smith would have joined England's backroom staff had Nick Mallett succeeded Martin Johnson four years ago.

The former Northampton coach left the All Blacks set-up after the 2011 World Cup triumph, but later joined Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs, spurning Stuart Lancaster's overtures to join his England staff.

Smith guided the Chiefs to Super Rugby success before returning to the All Blacks and adding an extra level of frugality to Steve Hansen's already mean-spirited rearguard cordon.

Hooker Mealamu, who is preparing for his final New Zealand game in Saturday's final against Australia, said: "It's been pretty good having Smithy back in the camp.

"With guys understanding their roles, he's been able to put some good systems in place for us.

"But it's just been good having good old Smithy back. Wayne's got a really good rapport with the players. He's a very smart man.

"He sees a lot of things a player doesn't usually pick up on and he's great at getting his teaching across. It's been really handy having him back.

"His close attention to detail really adds to the coaching group we've had over the last number of years."

Belfast Telegraph


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