Australian captain David Pocock’s rugby career is at a crossroads, and not just because his contract with the Western Force ends this year.
The outstanding openside flanker will receive offers from around the world because of his abilities as a player and a leader.
On Saturday, Pocock, 24, led the Force against fellow Australians, the Brumbies, at home in Perth. Despite losing 28-17, Pocock continued to impress Brumbies coach Jake White.
White wants Pocock to move to the Brumbies, who lose young flanker Michael Hooper to the Waratahs at the end of the season.
White, a former coach of South Africa, took control of the Brumbies this season, transforming the under-performing team, which now leads the Australian Super conference.
Pocock, meanwhile, emigrated to Australia from Zimbabwe in 2002, so White’s South African approach to rugby will be familiar to him.
But the Brumbies will have a crowd of competitors seeking Pocock’s signature, who in the past two seasons was a finalist for the IRB international player of the year.
Pocock is arguably the most popular Australian player and arguably the most respected.
He made his international debut in 2008, effectively ending the international careers of two Wallaby giants, George Smith and Phil Waugh.
This year, he was named captain of the Force, in place of inaugural captain Nathan Sharpe, who continues to play for the Force and for Australia. The decision to drop the popular Sharpe may have been the opening gambit in the fight for Pocock’s signature.
In June, he was named Wallaby captain for the Tests against Scotland and Wales, following a season-ending injury to captain James Horwill.
Pocock is a master of contested possession, one of the most potent weapons in rugby, so it is easy to see why he should be one of the highest players in international rugby.
And here is where the potential problems begin. Changing jobs is usually stressful. The stress rises when you have to move to another city and state. The stress increases further if you have to move overseas.
As well, a rugby career is short, so there is pressure to capitalise. Does Pocock decide on figures alone?
The answer is no. Huge offers will come from outside Australia, but if he takes them he will be ineligible to play for Australia. Even playing for Australia is a complex question, with three primary factors. They are money, fame and opportunity. And all three impact on each other.
Putting money aside, fame and opportunity are closely linked. Fame is under-pinned by who will be the next Wallaby coach? Will it be White? Will it be Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie?
Because Pocock is an international star, people overlook the fact that he is still relatively young at only 24.
While making this difficult decision, Pocock has to captain both the Force and the Wallabies.
As well, Pocock had health problems that related to the stressful move from Zimbabwe to Australia.
If this wasn’t enough, Pocock is outspoken on debatable stances outside of rugby as he backs political issues, such as supporting a controversial environmental tax in Australia.
Without question, that is a demanding workload—without the usual pressures of relationships, a social life, etc.
Pocock may be up to it. He may not be. Only time will tell.
For the moment, it seems the pressure is showing. Pocock is a highly disciplined player, who combines the qualities of aggression and calmness. But of late the aggression has taken hold, which reduces his effectiveness.
Lions, Hurricanes and Morlock
While on employment, the Lions from Johannesburg have suspended coach John Mitchell. Lions boss Kevin de Klerk stressed that the suspension wasn’t due to player complaints alone.
“It would be inaccurate to say it is a player-driven thing and I would like us to move away from that,” he said.
Assistant coach Johan Ackermann has assumed control of the Lions, who lost to the Stormers 27-17 in Cape Town on Saturday. The Lions have two win this season and are 14th on the table.
In New Zealand, the young Wellington Hurricanes defied the odds to beat the Crusaders 23-22 in Christchurch, keeping their finals hopes alive.
In Melbourne, former Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock, 35, played his last match on Australian soil, captaining the Rebels to a 32-17 loss to the Queensland Reds. Mortlock played 80 Tests for the Australia.
Peter Lalanabarvi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.
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