Before the 2011 World Cup semifinal against Australia, the All Blacks brains trust got together to discuss the problem that was the Wallabies No7 David Pocock.

Apart from No10 Quade Cooper, whom the All Blacks also targeted, the then 23-year-old Pocock was seen as a serious threat with his ability to turn the ball over; better perhaps than even Richie McCaw.

The All Blacks decided to run at Pocock as much as possible – the reason being if he was the tackler he wouldn't be on his feet to effect turnovers. The other tactic was to throw numbers into the breakdown and if Pocock was there, use the combined weight of the All Blacks to either push him backwards or force him to the ground.

It worked - Cooper was pressured from the outset after his first act was to kick the ball out on the full, and Pocock was effectively nullified; to the relief and pleasure of the All Blacks coaches who had gone into the test with a real fear of failure. Their final match before the World Cup was a defeat to Australia in Brisbane. A week after their semifinal win at Eden Park they beat France in the final.

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Now 30, and despite 18 months away from the international game – some of which he spent on a farm in his native Zimbabwe - Pocock is still a major threat and is perhaps still the best in the world at putting his head in dangerous places and winning possession.

He remains a special player, one that in tandem with the dynamic Michael Hooper will give an extra spice to the Bledisloe Cup this year.

A unique individual who isn't afraid to make a stand on environmental issues or gay rights, Pocock made his comeback from his international sabbatical in the Wallabies' 18-9 victory over Ireland in Brisbane on Saturday and was an inspirational as ever.

This time last year he was staring down a bull elephant in Zimbabwe and receiving occasional updates on the Wallabies' fortunes via text message, at Suncorp Stadium he took on the might of the second best team in the world and looked very much at home.

"It was good to be back out there," said Pocock, who scored Australia's crucial second try. "Good to start off with a win but I think they're not No2 in the world for nothing. They will be a much improved team in Melbourne. We have to be better in the second game for sure."

Pocock's toughness was evident at Suncorp Stadium but it's been noticeable too for the Brumbies this season – especially in Dunedin recently where he was given a torrid time by the Highlanders. In his seven games for the Brumbies he has made 70 out of 73 attempted tackles.

Against Ireland in the No6 jersey he made 15 of 17. He was penalised twice – which cost the Wallabies six points – after pushing the limits a little in two rucks, but he won a couple too.

Reflecting on his time away in Africa, he said: "There was a fair bit going on over there – it was certainly a break.

"You thought about it from time to time and I guess you think about what an incredible opportunity it is to represent Australia and as an immigrant I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had.

"So to be able to pull on the green and gold and represent Australia and get out there and do your best and know that you're also representing so many people in Zimbabwe who have been part of the journey. It's a huge honour and something I certainly don't take for granted."