Australian flanker David Pocock is relishing the prospect of facing All Blacks captain Richie McCaw again after two seasons wiped out by knee injuries.
Pocock started at openside flanker in Australia’s 34-9 win against Argentina on Saturday, his first match in the No 7 shirt in over two and a half years, and his performance earned high praise from Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Australia will clash with the world champion All Blacks in the abridged Rugby Championship title-decider in two weeks, a match likely to be McCaw’s swansong on Australian soil.
Before undergoing two knee reconstructions that forced him to miss the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Pocock’s match-ups with McCaw were billed as unofficial battles for the title of the world’s best openside flanker.
Pocock may have a chance to re-stake his claim in the August 8 match in Sydney against 34-year-old McCaw, who is expected to bow out of rugby after the All Blacks’ World Cup defence.
“It’s always a big occasion playing the All Blacks and he’s been right up there for a very long time,” the 27-year-old Pocock said in comments published by the Sydney Morning Herald.
“He’s a player I really respect and (I) relish those moments.”
A ferocious tackler and ball-pilferer, Pocock replaced Michael Hooper for the Argentina match after the former captain started at seven in the tight home win against South Africa.
Pundits have urged Cheika to try both players in the back row and the coach duly obliged in Mendoza by having Pocock shift to No 8 when Hooper came off the bench.
Barring injury, both are almost certain to feature in the World Cup squad which will go some way to correcting a historical error before the last tournament.
Former coach Robbie Deans had Pocock as his sole openside in his 2011 squad, which backfired when the ACT Brumbies player was injured ahead of a tournament-defining pool match against Ireland.
Australia lost, and though Pocock returned to play an important role in the quarterfinal win over South Africa, the Wallabies were condemned to face the eventual champion All Blacks in the last four.
“Competition is exactly what you want to be having,” Pocock said.