How Ireland treated David Pocock in Melbourne was eye-opening
Ireland went into the First Test in Brisbane hoping that David Pocock would take some time to get back to his best, at Test level. He did not. He was immense for 74 minutes.
The flanker ravaged Ireland at the breakdown, secured four turnovers, slowed down ball and scored a crucial try in the closing stages.
Pocock-proofing the Irish side, as much as possible, for the Second Test was PRIORITY ONE for Joe Schmidt, his coaching staff and players in the lead-up to the game. On The Hard Yards, James Downey and Kevin McLaughlin suggested six ways Ireland would hope to lessen his influence.
- Schmidt would say to referee Paul Williams, 'Pocock needs to release after he makes the tackle and before get gets back over the ball'.
- Pin him into rucks and keep him on the deck as long as possible.
- Target Pocock early and 'take him out'
- Have players latch onto the ball-carrier so clear out beyond the ruck
- Run at Pocock and make him the primary tackler, rather than have him poaching
- Bring back Dan Leavy at openside and get Devin Toner into the second row
We may never know if Schmidt did have that conversation with Williams but Ireland ticked all those other boxes in their 26-21 victory at AAMI Park.
Such is the sheer strength, body-shape and brilliance of Pocock that he was not kept completely quiet. He secured two crucial turnovers in his own 22 when Ireland were pressing for scores but he had less ruck involvements, went in for less poaches and was out-shone by Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony [four turnovers, including one lineout steal].
How Ireland treated him in Melbourne was markedly different and with a lot more aggression and purpose. Pocock got his first opportunity to do damage at the breakdown in the 5th minute but O'Mahony was on him like a rash and cleared out effectively.
Chance number two came after Andrew Conway's converted try had levelled the scores at 7-7.
This neutralising job was carried out by Leavy and Tadhg Furlong, who was a tad fortunate to avoid being penalised for oing off his feet in hooshing the flanker away.
Leavy and Furlong on 'Hoosh Pocock ta fuck outta the way' detail! pic.twitter.com/4vj3vrS5cw
— Pat McCarry (@patmccarry) June 16, 2018
On and on it went. Toner was extremely good at getting his 6-foot-10 frame in the way as Pocock was preying nearby. Both the Leinster lock, James Ryan and Furlong were very good at latching onto the ball-carriers and barrelling past the contact zone.
Ireland led at the break and looked to put themselves out of sight as the second half got underway. They ripped into the Aussies and would not let up until Furlong bulled over in the 54th minute for a try that put them 23-14 ahead.
The opening exchanges of the second half were fierce and Ireland dropped the hammer. On and on the came and there was no let-up.
60 seconds into the second half and Pocock thought he had Robbie Henshaw isolated. It came after a sweeping, left-to-right attack that involved Furlong, Garry Ringrose and O'Mahony. Henshaw was taken down by Dane Haylett-Petty and there was No.6 in the grey scrum-cap, swooping in for the poach.
Ireland were not having it.
Rob Kearney came charging in and Furlong propelled Pocock off the ball before Toner and O'Mahony piled in for good measure. Four players teaming up to blast the jackal-supreme out of the way. It was a joy to behold.
It was brutal and uncompromising stuff.
Pocock got his second turnover a few minutes later but that was his peak in a contest when the Aussies were simply overwhelmed.
The flanker's match stats were down in every notable department from Brisbane (ruck involvements, tackles, carries, poach attempts and turnovers all dropped off) and Ireland will hope to do the same in the Third Test, next weekend, in Sydney.
Melbourne proved Pocock is human, after all, but don't think for a second that he is going away.