MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Any doubts about David Pocock’s reintegration into Michael Cheika’s Wallabies were torpedoed at Lang Park as the flanker put in a match-winning performance to snap Ireland’s 12-game unbeaten streak.
Australia waited 18 months to see Pocock back in Wallabies colours after the openside took a sabbatical in 2017 to head back to Zimbabwe, labour on a farm and undertake conservation work in the country of his birth.
He kept busy during his time in Africa but also put in a mountain of work against the physical Irish, monstering them at the breakdown and scoring Australia’s second try to seal the 18-9 victory over the world’s second-ranked side.
Wearing the number six jersey, Pocock reunited with captain and number seven Michael Hooper in the back row, the pair reprising the successful partnership that helped drive Australia to the World Cup final in 2015.
There was some doubt over how the two specialist opensides would gel, particularly after the ploy fell flat in a 3-0 series sweep by Eddie Jones’s England in 2016, but the Irish conceded the pair had comfortably won the battle of the breakdown.
There was no such apprehension from Pocock, however, or uncertainty about his ability to return to his test best after the long hiatus.
“It’s one of those things you don’t think too much about,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Sunday. “You just back yourself and know that if you are doing all your prep, the physical and mental stuff, you’ll get back to your best.
“You thought about it from time to time and I guess you think about what an incredible opportunity it is to represent Australia. As an immigrant, I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had.
“To be able to pull on the green and gold and represent Australia and go out there and do your best and also know you’re representing so many people in Zimbabwe, who have been part of the journey, it’s a huge honour and something I don’t take for granted.”
With Johnny Sexton and several first-choice players starting on the bench, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland were kept try-less at Lang Park and disappointed with their failure to match the Wallabies’ work at the breakdown.
Pocock said he expected a backlash from the tourists for the second test of the three-match series in Melbourne on Saturday.
“We have to be better in the second game for sure,” the flanker said.
“It’s a huge challenge. They are a fantastic team. I watched them through the Six Nations and then obviously Leinster have had a cracking season, so we knew it was a big challenge.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien