Australia v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Melbourne, July 31
All Blacks wary of Pocock threat
July 29, 2010
Wallabies flanker David Pocock continues to attract plaudits © Getty Images
New Zealand have heaped praise on rising Wallabies star David Pocock ahead of their Tri-Nations showdown in Melbourne on Saturday.
Pocock's fleeting Test debut against the All Blacks spanned all of five minutes, but since then the Wallabies flanker has left a lasting impression on Saturday's adversary Richie McCaw. Pocock might still be waiting to experience his first victory over New Zealand after five attempts but his performance against McCaw during this year's Super 14 -- and contribution to the Wallabies Tri-Nations defeat of South Africa last weekend -- has the All Blacks captain resigned to another tough night at the breakdown inside Etihad Stadium.
During nine years of trans-Tasman battles, McCaw has outlasted Wallabies rivals George Smith and Phil Waugh. But deep in the prime of his career, McCaw faces another bruising opponent -- 22-year-old Pocock is well on track to emulate his rugged predecessors.
McCaw's clearest recollection of Pocock's debut off the bench is scoring the All Blacks match-winning try at Hong Kong Stadium in 2008. The Crusaders trip to Perth three months ago holds more painful memories.
"He played well that night," McCaw said of the Zimbabwean-born openside's impact on the Western Force's upset victory. "I couldn't get into that game because we were struggling to win the collisions."
The Springboks had similar troubles last weekend, after practically conceding the tackle area by failing to field a specialist No.7 to wrestle possession with Pocock. All Blacks coach Graham Henry watched from the stands in Brisbane and produced a glowing assessment of Pocock's work.
"He's very combative at the tackle, and physically very strong and stable. So he has the ability to hang in. You get smashed around a lot trying to do the job in that area of the game, and he has the physical and mental strength to be able to handle that," Henry said.
McCaw concurred. "He did make quite a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and you could see the Boks getting frustrated. So he had an impact there. These days he's pretty good at reading how to get in there and be a menace. He reminds me a bit of George Smith in the way how he picks his time really well."
Last season was a breakthrough season for Pocock, who featured in 13 of the Wallabies 14 Tests - and started in five of the last seven. McCaw, who has only lost three of his 19 Tests against Australia, was looking forward to another tight tussle with Pocock even if the new breakdown laws diminished one of his strengths -- racking up turnovers.
"At the start of the season there was very little opportunity to get near the ball and I think it has come back to a point where there still is a contest if you're accurate and you do it right," McCaw said. "Last year every second (tackle) one you could get your hands on the ball and maybe get a turnover whereas these days it might be only two or three times a game, but they could be the difference."
After running the South Africans ragged in Auckland and Wellington and watching the Wallabies do likewise in Brisbane, McCaw forecast a free flowing contest, within reason. "You don't just throw the ball around willy-nilly. It's about identifying where there's some spaces and backing yourself to be able to do it," he said.
"There's still a spot for kicking at the right time to build pressure. It's about getting the balance right. The Wallabies didn't kick the ball very much at all last week which would indicate they've got an attitude of using the ball fairly regularly too."