David Pocock, widely regarded as the best openside flanker in rugby, has signed a new deal to stay in Australia through to the next World Cup in 2019 after taking a one-year sabbatical in 2017. Keeping Pocock until the end of 2019 is a major boost for the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), which has seen a host of top talent leave for Europe, but they had to pay for their prize with unprecedented flexibility.
The deal, which will also see Zimbabwe-born Pocock, 27, remain at Super Rugby side ACT Brumbies, and take next year off to "further his studies and personal development" before returning in 2018. Pocock said he was still not sure what he will do with the season break but was pleased the protracted contract negotiations had finally been put to bed.
"I think from the start I was really keen to stay I guess, it was a little bit unusual having some time off next year so I guess that's why it took a bit longer, was just to try and get all those details down and sort it out," he said in Canberra on 16 March.
"This is my 11th season of professional rugby and I really want to continue but I feel like a little bit of a break will be good for the mind and good for the body, and probably good for the soul too," he added.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham, who was an assistant to Michael Cheika as the Wallabies reached last year's World Cup final, underlined Pocock's importance to both Super Rugby and national teams.
"He's an unbelievable player, he's a marquee player, one of the best in the world, if not the best in the world in his position. I think he's well respected by all players and certainly respected by all the coaches who are lucky enough to work with him...when we had him on the field, we knew that, we pretty much knew we were going to win the game so it's good to have players like that in your team," he told reporters in Canberra.
Pocock has played 55 tests for Australia since his debut in 2008 despite missing most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with back-to-back knee injuries. "I've loved the last four years in Canberra and at the Brumbies. It's been, it was a couple of tough years and they really stood by me and I got a lot of support and still really enjoyed it and learnt a lot and I feel like that's where I want to play my rugby," Pocock said.