Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Pocock's pushing the envelope a bit too far

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He is rugby's most engaging character and deepest thinker but the realisation is dawning that David Pocock may not be all that he seems. Photo / Getty Images
He is rugby's most engaging character and deepest thinker but the realisation is dawning that David Pocock may not be all that he seems. Photo / Getty Images

He is rugby's most engaging character and deepest thinker but the realisation is dawning that David Pocock may not be all that he seems.

The Wallabies flanker, widely seen outside New Zealand as the best openside in the game, might be prone to being a bit cheap and nasty off the ball to better enforce himself.

For all his brilliance over the ball, his skill-set is stunningly limited and he's possibly guilty of using his reputation as one of the game's good guys to push his luck: to see if he can get away with a bit of thuggery to paper over some of the cracks.

Reputation can be an effective cloak to disguise or hide all sorts of misdemeanours and shortcomings.

It can also be the best means to keep certain players squeaky clean. Richie McCaw knew all about that.

The former All Black skipper was globally branded a cheat pretty much on day one of his career and faced those allegations right up until his last test. But for all that the rest of the world howled and wailed and created this mythical being who would eat a small child if he had the chance, McCaw was a supremely clean and disciplined player.

In 148 tests, he picked up just three yellow cards and the worst of those offences was a casual foot trip. When he signed off, McCaw had finally broken everyone down - his relentless excellence, control and fairness were finally appreciated by his fiercest critics and the global rugby fraternity rose as one to hail him the greatest player there has ever been.

Pocock aspires to make a similar footprint in history and assume McCaw's mantle as the game's leading figure: to be the guiding light for the next generation.

Pocock is smart, worldly, brave, gifted and prepared to plough a different furrow to his peers. If there is a worthy cause, Pocock will back it. He made a stand against homophobia in the game last year and is determined to reduce the world's carbon footprint. And he can play a bit.

He's possibly guilty of using his reputation as one of the game's good guys to push his luck: to see if he can get away with a bit of thuggery to paper over some cracks.

Yet he's in danger of recasting himself as an unloveable villain if he continues to indulge in sly and nasty off-the-ball incidents - such as the incident in Canberra last week where he basically strangled Chiefs No8 Michael Leitch.

And that was not an aberration. In the World Cup final, 25 minutes into the game, Pocock's boot made heavy contact with McCaw's head. Perhaps it was an accident - the Wallaby openside appearing to lose his balance only to adjust his feet to stay upright and "accidentally" bring his left boot down on McCaw's face.

In the same way World Rugby weren't interested in investigating Aurelien Rougerie's eye gouge of McCaw in the 2011 World Cup final, Pocock was given the benefit of the doubt so that the whole business could be swept under the carpet and a marvellous final could be enjoyed without taint.

In light of his actions last weekend, though, Pocock's "accidental" head stomp looks a little less accidental. Perhaps it was closer to malicious than clumsy but because he's such a good bloke, no one thinks about his actions as hard as they should.

A three-week suspension should provide Pocock with time to consider what he wants his legacy to be. His apology to Leitch suggests that he is remorseful and cognitive that if he wants to have the same global standing as McCaw and be considered an equal, then this tendency to work opponents illegally has to be fixed.

It cheapens Pocock as an ambassador - makes him a contradictory figure when he campaigns for environmental and social change in one breath and is effectively assaulting an opponent the next.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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