Panasonic Wild Knights flanker David Pocock said Friday he is hanging up his rugby boots with immediate effect, ending an illustrious career that included 83 tests for Australia.
“It was a really tough decision to make,” Pocock told Kyodo News by phone from his home in Canberra.
“Panasonic have been so good to me and I’ve really enjoyed my time with them, but I’ve got to the point where I had to weigh up the toll on my body and decided I’ve had a great run and it’s time to call it a day and move on to other things.”
The former Wallaby, who was twice a finalist for World Player of the Year, last played on Feb. 22 against NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in the Top League in Osaka. He played his final test at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in the Wallabies’ 40-16 quarterfinal loss to England in Oita.
The 32-year-old was originally contracted to Panasonic until May 2020 after signing a three-season deal in 2016 that saw him feature in two campaigns in Japan before returning to Australia to prepare for the World Cup.
He had considered returning next year for one more season with the Wild Knights, in part as a way to thank head coach Robbie Deans who has been his mentor since they first met in 2008.
But the novel coronavirus pandemic, along with the growing toll on his body from high-level rugby, led him to abandon the idea.
“Under pressure, Robbie shows what type of man he is and how much he cares about players. He treats them as a human first and rugby player second,” Pocock said of the former Australia coach, who gave the then 20-year-old his first cap in 2008 against New Zealand in Hong Kong.
“He has played a huge part in my career. When I first thought of coming here, Robbie was the first person I talked to. I have enjoyed working with him and have learned a lot.”
Learning is something Pocock, one of the masters of the breakdown, has often emphasized. And it is one of the things he most enjoyed about his time in Japan.
“It was great seeing how much the guys (at Panasonic) wanted to learn. They were forever asking to do extras,” he said.
And while he is open to doing some spot coaching in the future — “I enjoy working with young players who are keen to learn” — it will take second place to his other great love.
Despite fleeing his birthplace Zimbabwe with his family at age 14 amid the Zimbabwean government’s land seizure and redistribution campaign, Pocock has retained many ties with the country through his passion for conservation, biodiversity protection and climate change.
Having previously worked with anti-poaching scouts in their efforts to save endangered rhinos, Pocock has set up the Rangelands Restoration Trust in the southern part of the African nation.
“We’re working to build land-use models that regenerate degraded rangelands, while creating wildlife habitat and improving the prosperity of people who depend on the land for their livelihoods. This kind of regenerative agriculture is a critical tool in the midst of the climate and extinction crises we are facing,” he said.
A no-nonsense player who was known as the “Breakdown Beast,” Pocock takes a similarly straightforward approach appraising his time in a game that in recent years has seen a growing number of players retire early due to injury.
“It’s a physical, demanding game and every player has to weigh that up,” he said, adding that the “end comes at different times for different players.”
“I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve had a great run and it’s been a huge part of my life for 15 years. But now it’s the time to take the next step and make a life outside of rugby.”
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