By Lee Stace
WHO DOES Wallabies coach Robbie Deans think he is kidding?
In case you reckon this scribe – or hack, as I was referred to last week by someone who, despite taking disdain at what I wrote, proceeded to comment on my blog – has gone off his rocker, I am talking about the transplanted New Zealander’s comments that David Pocock is a better player than Richie McCaw.
It’s all a load of hogwash, because the fact is Pocock isn’t. His allround skillset has yet to fully develop.
Don’t get me wrong. Deans was right to praise Pocock for his breakdown work after the Wallabies’ victory over Wales last weekend. After all, the skipper’s ability to make a right nuisance of himself at the ruck was what stymied the tourists’ chances of building crucial momentum.
He’s right to say that that Zimbabwe-born fetcher’s low centre of gravity and muscular build makes him nigh impossible to shift when he has arched himself over an isolated ball carrier. He’s right to say that Pocock can manoeuvre himself into good positions, even when contending with heavy traffic at the tackled-ball area.
But so does McCaw. In fact, he has been doing it for 104 quality tests for the All Blacks since his Lansdowne Road coronation as the ‘breakdown king’ against Ireland in 2001.
The other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that there is more to an openside’s game that just tackling and pilfering turnovers. Those are just two aspects of the position’s brief.
As well as being ever-present in support, modern-day No 7s have to also provide a physical edge when carrying the ball.
McCaw does the latter very well – and it is an area of his game that has grown as he has altered his approach to his work over the years. Pocock is not noted for his work with the ball tucked under the arm of his burly upper body.
Then there is consistency. No team has ever devised a strategy to limit the effectiveness of McCaw at the breakdown, instead resorting to claims that he cheats.
Although Pocock is beginning to have a similar influence there, he doesn’t bring it week-in, week-out like his New Zealand counterpart does on the international stage. The All Blacks successfully shut him down in the Rugby World Cup semifinals last year by running at him and forcing him to make a lot of tackles.
Of course, at 24 and with 41 tests on his résumé, there is every chance Pocock will inherit the title as the best openside in world rugby.
But right now there is only one and that is McCaw.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.