David Pocock (AP)
London – With two blackened eyes, bruises and cuts on his cheeks, and a swollen, broken nose streaming with blood, David Pocock’s commitment to Australia’s Rugby World Cup campaign is plain to see.
It’s not just his mangled face though. His whole body is aching from the battering he has taken over the past six weeks and he has a calf injury that is being managed day to day.
But for Pocock, who has become the enduring image of Australia’s never-say-die approach to the World Cup, the pain has all been worth it and on Saturday, he will realise a childhood dream when he plays in the final against New Zealand.
“It’s one of those things, it’s getting towards the end of the season so you’ve played a lot of rugby and I think your body gets used to recovering,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.
“We’ve got an outstanding strength and conditions team and medical team and physios that look after us so there’ll be no trouble getting up for another game.”
Seemingly down for the count a year ago, the Wallabies have picked themselves up off the canvas and transformed themselves into a team of warriors.
Unfancied before the tournament, they battled their way through the toughest pool in World Cup history, showed nerves of steel to come from behind and beat Scotland in the quarter-finals, then survived a ferocious battle with Argentina to join their old rivals New Zealand in the final.
No-one personifies the physical sacrifices the players have made more than Pocock, who draws his inspiration from the 1995 World Cup final, between South Africa and New Zealand, which he watched as a child from his grandfather’s farm in Zimbabwe.
“Certainly for me some of my greatest memories watching rugby were that ’95 final,” he said. “As a kid, that did something to me. I dreamt about playing in the World Cup after that.”
Five years later, when Pocock was 12, the Zimbabwean government announced it was seizing farms from white landowners. Pocock’s family packed up, left Africa and moved to Australia.
Pocock’s childhood experiences left a lasting impression on him, shaping his strong beliefs. When he’s not playing rugby, he runs a charitable foundation aiding self-sufficiency in poverty stricken areas of Zimbabwe and is an activist for a variety of causes, from same-sex marriage to the environment.
“I’ve absolutely loved the game of rugby and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that it’s given me but I’m very conscious of the fact that at the end of the game it’s a game,” he said.
“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.”
In his spare time during the World Cup, Pocock has been watching wildlife documentaries. In the aftermath of Sunday’s semi-final win over Argentina, there were no wild celebrations for him.
Instead, he returned to the Australian team’s hotel to watch some old episodes of a David Attenborough series on Africa.
A strong advocate for diversity, the Australian coach Michael Cheika, the son of a Lebanese migrant who worked in women’s fashion before coaching, has described his team as a mixture of jokers, lovers and fighters.
With his splattered nose, Pocock is the perfect image of a prize-fighter, but like the rest of his team, his looks are deceiving and he’s a bit of a everything.
“I like to consider myself more a lover than a fighter,” he said. “But a bit of a knock on the nose can change that.”