On Friday night, Brumbies and Wallabies star David Pocock became only the fifth player to win the John Eales Medal on multiple occasions, backing up from his 2010 win, to join Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Nathan Sharpe and George Smith.
We spoke to David’s mum Jane about her son; what makes him tick, how his year off has helped him play such a consistently high standard of Rugby, how he gives himself every opportunity to be successful, and more.
Pete Fairbairn (PF): Firstly Jane, thanks so much for giving up your time to speak about David’s success. Whenever he wins an individual award, what does that mean to you, his father and his two brothers, as his greatest supporters?
Jane Pocock (JP): As parents, we are obviously really proud. We see just how incredibly hard he works, and our family culture and motto right from when the boys were little was, ‘you reap what you sow’. We see Dave working really, really hard behind the scenes and caring for his body as best he can, so to get the recognition is great for us and for him.
We also know that individual awards in a team sport make him a little bit uncomfortable, because he certainly feels like just one player in a team, and as a family we make sure we don’t set him on a pedestal as he’s one of three boys and we’re very proud of them all.
PF: So individual recognition isn’t what drives or inspires him?
JP: No, not at all, he doesn’t go after them and if anything, there’s maybe a sense of uneasiness in the individual limelight. Our family philosophy has always been to support each other as a team and do things together, so he’s been in that environment all his life and it’s possibly spilt over into his Rugby career. But as Mum and Dad sitting in the lounge room watching on and reflecting, we are of course exceptionally proud.
PF: This is of course the second time that he has won the John Eales Medal, after winning in 2010. He’s been on quite the journey since then, including relocating to the Brumbies, suffering two serious knee injuries and having a sabbatical year. Is it a completely different David winning this award, eight years later?
JP: It’s obviously an older and wiser Dave. He has always been very mature, but he has matured even more over that journey. After the second knee injury, there was never really a consideration that he would accept it as career-ending without trying to return, and it quickly become about how he was going to get through it and get back. Obviously if he had felt he couldn’t, we would have supported him with that, but it wasn’t ever an option for him.
What some people don’t see behind the scenes is that Dave is incredibly diligent with his preparation and, in that case, his rehab, and his nutrition. His wife Emma is amazing in supporting that, and with the second knee reconstruction they went a lot deeper into finding every possible tool to help his body recover. On the way home from the hospital in Brisbane, we stopped at the local organic shop and bought everything Emma had researched to help heal and strengthen ligaments, and we made him bone broth to assist. He has always given his body the best chance possible to be successful; I don’t know what other athletes do, but certainly he is incredibly diligent in that sense.
PF: The reality is that the general public probably don’t realise just how hard professional Rugby players work and what’s involved in their preparation, do they?
JP: No they probably don’t.
One of the most common questions I get asked as Dave’s mum is, “what does he do in all of his spare time and when he is not on the field?” I explain that he generally has about a twelve-hour day, six days a week, between all of the physical stuff, all of the analysis and backgrounding.
He has studied and it has been a bit of a frustration for him that he can only barely manage to complete one subject at a time as the demands are so intense, and he is very committed to thinking of his body as his major tool and being determined to look after it. I think that was probably a big factor in him needing to take some time off (Pocock had a sabbatical in 2017) to regroup and refresh, physically and emotionally.
PF: I did want to talk about David’s sabbatical. I’ve seen the Rugby.com.au Out of Africa documentary which was fantastic, and I’ve heard David speak about the time he and Emma spent in Africa, his time studying in the U.S. and playing in Japan (for Panasonic Wild Knights) as well.
Do you believe that range of different commitments over the twelve months off contributed to his outstanding form, culminating in him winning the John Eales Medal?
JP: It was obviously a very controversial decision (to take the sabbatical) and everybody had an opinion on it. His dad Andy did voice concerns over the risk he was taking, because as we know in Rugby you do see players who are superstars one season and then halfway through the next year you wonder where they’ve gone; it’s such a fickle career. Andy was concerned that in that year away, somebody else could step in and take the spot but David was aware of that and felt it necessary to take the risk.
The fact that he is so disciplined with looking after himself meant he would be able to maintain his condition and use the time off as a positive thing. For Dave, as a person he is an introvert and as much as he loves the team environment, it can be challenging for his personality-type to always be around people. I hesitate to use the word, but he is also a deeply spiritual person and he has a deeply intense interior and contemplative life which needs space and time, and the sabbatical gave other aspects of his personality the opportunity to shine.
PF: I’m going to ask you to get slightly philosophical here, so please bear with me, but what are your hopes for David’s future in both Rugby and life in general?
JP: Look, as parents we have encouraged David to be his own man for so long, and as a mother I see myself as a champion of my three boys. They make their own decisions and forge their own way, and whether I agree with it or not, we really trust them and know that they know what is right for them. We don’t push our own hopes on them, but I’ll be honest and say that the fairy-tale would be that the Wallabies win the Rugby World Cup next year!
Even on his sabbatical year, I know that when David and Emma were living a more ‘normal’ life and working on the farm in Zimbabwe, their future is something that they were thinking a lot about.
I personally don’t think David will have a career in Rugby coaching or commentary, he is so passionate about conservation and the environment and I’m fairly sure he will follow a pathway related to sustainability. Emma is now working in politics in Canberra and doing very well, so her career may dictate the location and terms in the future?
Being away for a year, Dave seems to have a renewed appreciation for maintaining close contact with his family. I have seen the three brothers get a lot closer the last year as young adult men, which is great.
PF: Finally, Jane, what would you say if you were sitting next to David at the Rugby Australia Awards and he’d just come back to the table wearing the John Eales Medal.
JP: I would probably just give him a hug and cry and I guess I would just remind him how proud we are of him. I know that the John Eales Medal is something that is a bit more special to the players, because it is peer-driven and voted by their teammates. I would say good on him for taking the risk with the time off, and coming back and giving it his all and being rewarded for all of that hard work.
On behalf of everybody at the Rugby Union Players’ Association, we wish David Pocock the warmest of congratulations on winning the 2018 John Eales Medal! The photograph has been provided by the Pocock family, and is from his brother Mike’s wedding.
Enjoyed this story? Go into the RUPA archives to hear from Sekope Kepu on last year's winner, Israel Folau, here, and from George Smith on 2016 winner Michael Hooper, here.
Past Winners, John Eales Medal:
2002 - George Smith
2003- Phil Waugh
2004- David Lyons
2005 - Jeremy Paul
2006 - Chris Latham
2007 - Nathan Sharpe
2008 - George Smith
2009 - Matt Giteau
2010 - David Pocock
2011 - Kurtley Beale
2012 - Nathan Sharpe
2013 - Michael Hooper
2014 - Israel Folau
2015 - Israel Folau
2016 - Michael Hooper
2017 - Israel Folau