Pocock opens up on art of contact area

The Wallabies flanker, who has secured more turnovers than anyone in Rugby World Cup history, explains how he dominates this key battleground.

TOKYO, 24 Sep - Australia's David Pocock has secured a chart-topping 30 turnovers in his 11 Rugby World Cup matches, with the ball-scavenging specialist having honed his craft to the extent that he feels now like he does it on auto-pilot. 

"It's like any skill, you are trying to get better at it, more efficient to the point where you are not thinking, you are just responding to what's in front of you," he said on Tuesday. "You are just playing, you are not getting into a game and having to think, 'Oh he's going that way, so I am going to step', you just do it."

It is a frightening message for those trying to stop the the 79-cap flanker doing what he does better than anyone in history.

A look at the four names below Pocock in the roll call of players with the most World Cup turnovers underlines the reasons why Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was so keen to get the former skipper fit, healthy and in his starting line-up. 

Wales's two-time British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton pilfered the ball 20 times during his World Cup career, as did All Black legend Josh Kronfeld, with South Africa's Rugby World Cup 1995 winning scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen one ahead of them both. Richie McCaw (NZL), the only captain to have ever lifted the Webb Ellis Cup twice, is next up but even he lags five turnovers behind Pocock. 

It makes the Australian particularly worth listening to when he explains how he has mastered this critical art. 

"You're doing a huge amount of practice on arriving - arriving there first, arriving there low, and arriving there on your feet," Pocock said.

"Getting straight on to the ball and trying to steal it. You're not trying to buy time on the ball on your elbows, you're trying to get in there and be efficient. We've been doing a lot of work as a back row and it's something that we'll continue to work on through the tournament. After most sessions we're doing work, extras."

Australia have the bonus of having not one but two contact-area magicians, with captain Michael Hooper lining up on the open-side and Pocock on the blind-side for the Wallabies opening match against Fiji last Saturday. The modest Pocock would not go into detail on his own attributes but his analysis of partner-in-crime Hooper reveals plenty. 

"'Hoops' is physical, he's obviously quick off the mark and I think he reads the game well. He's able to sum up what the D's (defence) doing when he's got the ball in hand and back himself to step and take a half-gap, try and get in behind."

It is no wonder Cheika put the pair into action immediately in Japan, despite Pocock having only just returned from six months out with injury. 

RNS ln/ajr/mr