I’m going to start with two bold statements about David Pocock. Right now, he may just be the best openside in world rugby. Secondly, he has the potential to surpass all of Richie McCaw’s achievements and accolades to become the best openside flanker of the modern era. Bold, but bear with me while I explain.
The first of the statements is probably the most controversial, with Richie McCaw still in his prime. However, in certain aspects of his game, David Pocock is starting to show that he is a better player than McCaw, and he is only 23 years of age.
McCaw still undoubtedly has the edge at the breakdown and he probably will for a few more years to come, purely due to his experience. However, there are few opensides in world rugby that are genuinely competitive with McCaw at the breakdown and Pocock is one of them. Pocock is a phenomenal athlete, who gets himself in exceptional positions over the ball, from which there are very few players capable of moving him. McCaw is the benchmark for breakdown play, but international sides are now finding that they have to factor in how they are going to deal with Pocock at the breakdown, which speaks volumes about the calibre of the man.
In attack, Pocock is a devastating carrier of the ball. He may not quite have the shrewdness and visual awareness of McCaw, but he is far more of an individual threat with ball in hand, due to the pace at which he comes on to the ball, as well as his sheer physicality, an area where he eclipses McCaw.
David Pocock genuinely has the potential to surpass McCaw as the best openside of the modern era. He is changing the perception of what is expected of an openside flanker in a way that we have not seen since Michael Jones, who is rightly regarded as the greatest 7 of all time. Pocock has the physicality of a 6, but the breakdown speed, athleticism and ball playing ability of a 7. As teams around the world try to unearth players with this unique skill set, Pocock is arguably the only one currently plying his trade in world rugby.
This Rugby World Cup is set to be huge for Pocock. He may only be young, but he already has 18 Wallaby caps and is one of their most influential players. I expect a lot of teams to struggle to deal with him, especially at the breakdown, and his prospective battle with McCaw, should New Zealand and Australia meet in the final, is a mouth watering affair to say the least.