Wallabies flanker David Pocock remembered what he had been about how to react when the lion charged at him. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Wallabies flanker David Pocock remembered what he had been about how to react when the lion charged at him. Picture: Phil Hillyard

The day Pocock stared death in the face

WHEN David Pocock stands across from the All Blacks' haka in a fortnight, not one fibre of his enormous frame will feel intimidated.

Because he's been as close, face-to-face, with a real killer.

A huge lion, protecting his patch in a Zimbabwean national park, could have turned Pocock's sabbatical last year into disaster.

The Wallabies flanker made the controversial call to take 2017 off from Australian rugby, spending six months on his late grandfather's farm, saving animals and working on environmental conservation.

But nature is unpredictable.

"We visited Mana Pools, right on the north near the Zambezi river, it's one of the most incredible places I've ever been, stunning scenery, one of the few national parks you can get out and walk," Pocock said.

"So we were walking past elephants, and saw some lions on foot and got charged by one.

"We were with Nick Murray, a really experienced guide, he started guiding in Mana Pools in 1988, the year I was born, so it gives you a lot of confidence when someone knows the landscape and animals so well.

"There was a pride of lions, and he knew the females really well, but there'd been a few males who had kicked the older males out.

This was the lion that charged at Wallabies star David Pocock in Zimbabwe. Picture: David Pocock
This was the lion that charged at Wallabies star David Pocock in Zimbabwe. Picture: David Pocock

"And they were quite new and not habituated to people.

"He said we can walk up to them and see what happens, see how close we can get.

"The females didn't care at all, they were just lying around, lift their head every now and again, they're the laziest animals, they lie around for 20 hours a day.

"So we started getting closer, checking out this male and female. The female didn't care but the male was getting a bit agitated.

"He started a deep growl, we were pushing a bit closer, and all of a sudden he flew out of the bushes and charged about 15 metres."

Pocock took a snap of the lion before he charged.

 

Wallabies flanker David Pocock remembered what he had been about how to react when the lion charged at him. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Wallabies flanker David Pocock remembered what he had been about how to react when the lion charged at him. Picture: Phil Hillyard

 

In that moment, one of the world's most famous rugby players had to use all his courage to do as he'd been taught.

"You've just got to stand still, you can't run, the one thing you cannot do is run because then you're done," Pocock said.

"As soon as you run they think you're prey, whereas if you stand your ground, with most animals there is that fear and respect for humans, so they're not going to go out of their way to risk trying to kill you.

"It was just incredible being in their environment, because you understand how fragile humans actually are.

"You take away the modern buildings and things, you're pretty vulnerable on foot.

"He pulled up about 30 metres away, and then went back to the female.

"Those were the amazing experiences we got to have in that time because you're not constrained to a plan."

 

Wallabies star David Pocock charges at the Ireland defence in Brisbane in June.
Wallabies star David Pocock charges at the Ireland defence in Brisbane in June.

 

Pocock went away with his partner Emma, who he'll marry at the end of this year after gay marriage was legalised in Australia.

"We'd never spent so much time together, I think she got a bit sick of me, no it was great," Pocock said.

"We loved the time together. The thing about professional sport is that in some ways it's a selfish pursuit, you often have to be so single-minded about it that the people in your life, and their schedules and agendas often take a back seat.

"Having that time together was great."

Pocock has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Whether it's taking up the cause for gay marriage equality, or handcuffing himself to a coal mine, the 30-year-old is much more than a rugby player.

Which is why he decided to take the risk, in the prime of his career, to sit out the Wallabies season.

"It's something I'd thought about for a while, the game takes its toll on you physically," he said.

"I got to the point where I felt like I needed some time away, I joined the Western Force when I was 17 and had been in that environment for 11 seasons.

David Pocock ahead of the Bledisloe Cup trial at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval on Friday night.
David Pocock ahead of the Bledisloe Cup trial at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval on Friday night.

"It was definitely a risk, I was a little bit nervous about it, but it was something I wanted to do and was confident that if I had time away, experiencing different things, I had a really good plan to get back through Japan and transition back into Super Rugby."

Pocock hasn't missed a beat upon his return, dominating the breakdowns as usual and ensuring he will be central to the Wallabies' chances of beating New Zealand for the Bledisloe Cup.

Australia has not held the trophy since 2002.

To do so, a win first up at Sydney's ANZ Stadium on August 18 is imperative.

The All Blacks have a proud record to protect.

Pocock and his Wallabies teammates must stare down the kings of the rugby jungle.

 

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