Pocock has battle scars to show for Wallabies RWC journey

TEDDINGTON, England (AP) With two black eyes, a swollen nose, a cut on his temple and taped-up fingers on his right hand, David Pocock has the battle scars to show for Australia’s arduous path to the Rugby World Cup final.

Four days from the biggest game of his life, Pocock is a mess.

”I’m just trying to avoid snoring at the moment,” he said Tuesday at Australia’s team base, where Pocock – an avid wildlife fan – is the subject of some friendly abuse for his resemblance to a panda.

Wallabies fans don’t need to worry, though. Pocock may not look his best – as his partner, Emma, has noted – but he may just be in the form of his career ahead of his latest clash with back-row rival Richie McCaw and the mighty All Blacks on Saturday.

The breakdown-wrecking No. 8 is perhaps the main reason why Australia will be at Twickenham this weekend, bidding to win the Webb Ellis Trophy for a record third time. With his tackles, his turnovers (at 14, easily the tournament-high), his ball-carrying and his work rate, Pocock is among the favorites for player of the tournament.

The Wallabies have needed him in a campaign which has seen them play knockout rugby for the past four weeks, from pool-stage matches against England and Wales to a tough quarterfinal against Scotland and a grueling semifinal against Argentina. Australia has won them all.

”It’s been four or five weeks of finals for us, every game has been huge,” Pocock said. ”It’s getting towards the end of the season but you’ve played a lot of rugby so your body is used to recovering. There will be no trouble getting up for another game.”

That’s good news, because he faces the ultimate challenge on Saturday against New Zealand’s all-star back row of McCaw, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino.

It will be the record-extending 148th and probably final test of McCaw’s career, and Pocock cannot wait to take on perhaps the greatest rugby player one last time.

”He’s a player who has been at the top of his game for a long time,” Pocock said. ”He’s proved he can perform at that level over lots and lots of tests.”

It is the Wallabies’ fourth World Cup final, and first since 2003 when they lost to England in Sydney. Their last title came in 1999, when Stephen Larkham was guiding the team at flyhalf and it was his 48-meter dropped goal that helped earn Australia a semifinal victory over South Africa in extra time.

Larkham is now Wallabies attack coach but doesn’t believe passing on his experiences from 1999 will help the team.

”I haven’t even tried to offer them anything,” he said Tuesday. ”The game’s moved on, that was `99 and 2003, the game’s certainly moved on from there. These players have been on their own journey.”

The new chapter in Australian rugby history is being written by the likes of Pocock, who wants to see one particular person in the crowd of 80,000 on Saturday.

”I’m a big fan of wildlife documentaries, particularly David Attenborough. He’s a big hero of mine,” Pocock said. ”On Sunday (after the Argentina game), I put my feet up and was rewatching his Africa series.

”If he wants to come to the final, I’m sure we could organize some tickets. He’s a legend.”