One of Australia’s star players and current captain of the Super Rugby franchise Western Force is flanker David Pocock, who grew up in Zimbabwe and still retains close links to his homeland as he helps the fight against poverty and AIDS.
David Pocock grew up in Gweru and apart from rugby he has a passion for nature and enjoys getting out of the city back to his country and farming roots. He started off his rugby career in Gweru and it has been noted that some of the mothers of his opponents did not want their sons to front up against him even at this early age. He would insist on playing in the yard with his brothers (Mike and Steve) and his Dad (Andy) – trying to coax Andy into passing and kicking to him for hours on end.
The Pococks moved to Australia in 2002 after his family were evicted from their farm:
“Our land was acquired by the government,” said Pocock, who arrived in Brisbane at the age of 14, with his family, 10 or 12 suitcases and “not much else”.
“There were a couple of farmers in the area that were killed and I guess there was a lot of lawlessness, violence and intimidation. The vast majority was directed toward farm workers but there were a few white farmers targeted.”
“Once we moved off the farm we lived in town for about a year but really farming was our livelihood and mum and dad didn’t really want to do anything else, so we decided to leave.
His father worked odd jobs to get the family back on their feet in Brisbane and Pocock was awarded a sports scholarship to Anglican Church Grammar, a renowned breeding ground for elite rugby players, where he played in the school’s first 15 with Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper.
Dave Pocock then played for the Australian Schoolboys rugby side in his final year of school in 2005. It was only then that he was tested as an openside flanker, having previously played in the backline all through his high school years (playing flyhalf, fullback, on the wing and at inside centre).
In 2005, during his final year at Churchie, Dave was approached by the new Super Rugby franchise – the Western Force – to join their outfit as an apprentice.
Towards the end of 2008 Dave made his Wallabies debut in Hong Kong against the All Blacks, and then played against Italy and the Barbarians on the Wallabies spring tour that same year. His Wallabies call up came six years, to the day, after his family arrived in Australia having farewelled their farm in Zimbabwe following years of political and civil unrest in the African nation. That same year he also captained the Australian Under 20s at the Junior World Championships in Wales, and was then awarded the Emirates Western Force captaincy for the development tour of England.
In 2010 David was recognised as a world-class open side flanker, winning the John Eales Medal – the highest honour in Australian Rugby. Dave’s hard work and aptitude was recognized at an international level after being nominated alongside five other players for 2010 IRB Player of the Year which is an award given to the best player in world rugby. In addition he was recognised with the Australia’s Choice Wallaby of the Year and awarded the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) Medal of Excellence.
Charity Work: EightyTwenty Vision
The now 23-year-old Wallabie Flanker still keeps close ties to Zimbabwe, where he is committed to helping those with less opportunities than himself and helps develop poverty-stricken communities in which his exploits as on the rugby field are virtually unknown.
He founded the charity EightyTwenty Vision along with his friend Luke O’Keefe in 2009 which focuses on lifting living standards of two wards in Nkayi, a rural centre of some 120,000 people in western Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province.
The communities, like many in landlocked Zimbabwe, have suffered under the current regime and remain vulnerable to food shortages, malnutrition and the spread of HIV.
Eightytwenty Vision is working for the purpose of assisting the people of Nkayi and uplifting their standard of living through a focus on economic development and equipping people with skills for self-sustenance.
At the moment the programme focuses mainly on two wards: the Philip and Nkalakatha wards. The population of Nkayi is 111,118 as at the 2002 census with an average growth rate of 3.5% per year. Generally the people are heavily dependant on subsistence farming and cattle rearing to sustain their livelihoods. Nkayi, like much of rural Zimbabwe, has experienced severe food shortages, resulting in malnutrition, poor health, and like elsewhere in Zimbabwe is also vulnerable to HIV and Aids.
“In the grand scheme of things, our work is very small but the results we’ve seen so far are very encouraging,” Pocock told Reuters in a recent interview.
“On the ground things are beginning to improve for the community. Most noticeably, there’s a sense that things are starting to happen and there is hope.
“The community is starting to use its own initiative, whereas in the past, given the political and economic situation, it was very easy to feel there was not too much light at the end of the tunnel.”
The softly-spoken Pocock felt compelled to use his high profile in Australia and the rest of the world to help make a difference.
“I think sport has a huge role to play in society in terms of trying to break down stereotypes in a whole range of social issues,” he said
“You hear people say: ‘I never chose to be a role model, I just want to play sport.’ But just by being in the public and having a profile they are role models. I think with playing sport at an elite level comes that responsibility.”
Pocock’s personal integrity, along with his ball-poaching prowess at the breakdown, has seen him awarded the captaincy of Perth-based Super Rugby franchise Western Force in the southern hemisphere’s provincial competition this year, taking over from long-serving lock Nathan Sharpe.
There are many rugby pundits that have touted him as a future Wallabies captain: “There’s plenty to focus on before the Wallabies even get back together,” said Pocock. “To captain your country is obviously a huge honour but there’s a lot of responsibility … It’s not something I think about too much, to be honest.”
Book – Openside: The David Pocock Story
Based on his spectacular rise and his incredible talent and drive, this book is David’s insight into the world of Rugby. From his early days growing up in Zimbabwe, immigrating to Australia and playing for the Australian Schoolboys, his debut with Western Australia’s The Force, to his call up to the Wallabies, he has won many honours in many games and is held in great esteem by fans and peers alike.
In My Journey To The Rugby World Cup, David shares the life and times of a professional rugby player. It includes key tournaments in Rugby throughout 2011: Super Rugby, Tri-Nations, Bledisloe, as well as the highlight of the Rugby calendar the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Available from Amazon, in the UK and US as a paperback and is also available in electronic form as a digital Kindle Book version: