Right now the gossip mill is in full flight. The word around town is that David Pocock might be looking to venture down the academic path and take a year out to study.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you a story about a rugby player who took that opportunity.
Kings Park at capacity; the noise deafening; the crowd baying for your blood; the Springboks under pressure.
“We are here to play boys, let’s not die wondering.”
Game time. 80 minutes which seems like a life time has come and gone. We have won for the first time in South Africa since Stirling Mortlock kicked that goal from the sideline.
“What a feeling!”
Fast forward three months.
Fear; confusion; equations longer than my arm and playing university rugby on a cold British night in front of 15 people. That includes the coaches and reserves for both teams. It seems a million miles way from where I was, but the challenge is no less daunting.
I had worked extremely hard for years to have the honour to play for the Wallabies and that time seemed to come and go in one breath. It was onto the next phase of my life – a full time student at the prestigious University of Cambridge.
Many people ask why.
The simple answer to that is because I got in. The application process was as rigorous a process as I have ever been through. Academia was not my strength at school and self-doubt engulfed me from day one. I will never forget sitting in my first maths class. Staring at the blackboard like a deer in the headlights, looking at this lecturer go through the most simple of problems. My understanding was about as clear as a bucket of highland peat.
To my surprise, there was a fellow student so confident in her ability that she took notes, understood the problem and explained the answer to another student sitting to her left. I needed her notes badly, but alas, five years later, I still do not have a copy of them.
Leaving Australia to venture into the unknown world of academia was one of the greatest challenges I had faced up to that point, and no doubt will ever face in my life. Arriving at my new student digs, a room with a blow up mattress and few other utilities was a far cry from what I had grown accustomed to in Australia.
Living the life, traveling around the globe, playing at some of the greatest stadiums in the world, having people watch each and every match with extraordinary passion was something rugby players are lucky enough to experience from week to week. I borrowed the Wallabies jumper for ten years and did my utmost to do it proud each and every time, as my teammates did too.
Cambridge was no different for me. I was borrowing a moment in time at a university with 800 years of tradition. Not only is the university tradition special, but so too are all aspects of the institution.
Pertinent to rugby, receiving your playing kit prior to the Varsity match in a room that is 600 years old over port and nuts is a tradition that has been in place for well over a century. Similarly special was listening to a stirring speech delivered on Castle Hill overlooking Cambridgeshire late at night, a place where the Anglo Saxons formed a strategic location to defend from, and where the Normans built Cambridge Castle in 1068.
Finally, being informed of selection by the captain, who has ridden around town to each and every player who has played for the team during the season. It’s a task which is both fulfilling and difficult due to the elation of the player selected, and disappointment of those who have miss out.
Culturally, getting the opportunity to have lunch in the same restaurant as Stephen Hawkings, or listening to a concert pianist in the Peter House auditorium. You are lectured by a Professor of Economics who sat on the board of the International Monetary Fund.
Where else does one get such a plethora of experiences that satisfy you in all aspects of life?
Did I ever think that I would be able to have the honour to wear the beloved green and gold again after I left? Not a chance, and I was comfortable with that.
I was a full time student, and as with my peers, we were all focused on the studies and a career post-university. Watching from afar and supporting the team all the way, a part of me wished I was still playing, but not in a regretful manner. Towards the back end of 2009 – the phone rings: “Dan – Robbie here”.
Words I have never been as excited to hear! There was some interest, that’s all that was required!
To the training paddock I headed. Running, weights and general conditioning. A couple of games for Northampton – four professional games in three years to be precise. It was nothing compared to what a professional athlete does these days.
In conjunction with my final exams and a pending opportunity back in Australia, I have never trained and studied so hard. Morning conditioning, breakfast, ten hours in the library sometimes broken up with a cardio lunch session plus weights every night.
Ball skills were limited to grabbing a fellow student and passing and catching for 45 minutes a day.
For some reason, although I had set myself ambitious goals, the more I had on the easier training got. It was a welcome relief from the library grind.
The result was that I had never been so fit. Though not match hardened, the cardio side was well sorted. This held me in good stead upon my return, and I was lucky to return and play some enjoyable rugby and appreciate the opportunity for what it was. Not many people have the chance to experience a second chance in professional sport, and boy, I was not going to die wondering.
David Pocock is faced with the very same chance I had; to study at a prestigious school overseas.
Why the hell shouldn’t he go? Why not pursue the opportunity to be exposed to some of the greatest lecturers in their chosen field when he has already been exposed to some of the greatest rugby talent in the last decade?
Why not interact with peers, who in years to come will win Nobel prizes when he has already won most of the prestigious awards Australian Rugby has to offer.
Go for it man – you will never regret it, of that I am certain.
What I can say is that I never thought I would have the opportunity to pull on the beloved green and gold jumper again, but David will do this with ease. The class of the man speaks for itself every time he runs on to the field.
The Masters programs at Oxbridge have an approximate duration of 9-10 months and look what he did after coming back from two major knee injuries.
Imagine if he has a year off where he applies himself in the classroom, does not get physically bashed around and can focus on strength and conditioning. Geez – that is scary proposition worth debating about!
I cannot speak for the individual, but what I can say is that I do not regret what I did for a second. Would I do it again? Absolutely!
Has it helped me as an individual? More than I could have imagined. I can only hope that should David pursue the same path, that he finds it as rewarding and challenging as I did.
And if you’re curious…
After finishing my final exam and getting back on the plane to Australia I was filled with mixed emotions – utter relief and a pure sense of elation.
One job was done; turn the page; next chapter.