DAVID SYGALL 31/07/2011
The notion that Richie McCaw is the best openside flanker in the world is as much as myth as the so-called Eden Park hoodoo, according to 1999 Rugby World Cup-winning back rower Owen Finegan, who has rated David Pocock a superior breakaway.
As the Wallabies prepare to take on the All Blacks in Auckland next Saturday – where they haven't won since 1986 – Finegan paid Pocock the ultimate compliment, judging him the best No7 in the recent Super Rugby season and a better player than McCaw, the 2010 IRB international player of the year.
Asked if he felt McCaw was still the world's premier fetcher, Finegan, the 1995-2005 Wallabies team of the decade player, said: "No. I probably rate David Pocock above him. George Smith was the best No7 I ever played with or against, and that included McCaw. And Pocock, towards the end of George's career, was the one who put him on notice."
Finegan said McCaw has always enjoyed the luxury of playing behind a dominant pack, whether with the Crusaders or All Blacks, whereas Pocock has had tougher challenges with the Force and Wallabies, making his performances more impressive.
"From what I know of Pocock, from a young age he knew that this was what he wanted to do," Finegan said. "He's very committed to getting results in his own game and the teams he plays in."
Pocock told The Sun Herald in Sydney he relished the opportunity to face McCaw, especially at Eden Park.
"Ever since I started playing Super Rugby I've looked forward to games against other No7s who are highly rated," he said. "That hasn't really changed. Any game against the All Blacks is a big challenge and I'm certainly looking forward to this one."
Pocock said the team was not interested in discussion about hoodoos, as any game against the All Blacks in New Zealand was a supreme test.
"[Eden Park] is a ground with a lot of history, which has been traditionally very hard to win at," he said. "But that's just what it is – history. As a team we're going over there to put in our best performance no matter what's happened before. That will be our priority leading up to the game, focusing on ourselves and preparing ourselves well."
Pocock returned to the Wallabies line-up in last weekend's win over South Africa. However, he said it was hard to judge the team's progress, following a shock loss to Samoa and the reality that every game now is an audition for Robbie Deans' final 30-man squad, which will be named in three weeks.
"It's the nature of test rugby that if you get an opportunity, you really have to take it because you never know when your next opportunity will come. It's something that Robbie has talked about a lot over the past few years, valuing every minute you get," he said.
"I was pretty happy to be out on the field again. But, looking at the tape, there are plenty of things I'm looking to improve on. That's what this week's been about, a lot of stuff around combinations with the back row and looking at ways to work together better.
"It's a bit hard to judge where we're at. But we can't train or change the way we're playing judged on how we perceive we're going. I think we've got to aim high and really work to improve and seek that improvement in all of our performances."
That includes performing better at Eden Park, where Finegan, like Pocock, believes history means nothing. "All that stuff about fortresses and hoodoos – they might have thought that about Stadium Australia, but in the 2003 world cup that didn't prove to be the case," Finegan said. "Whenever you play away from home it's harder but, as a player, you never go into a game thinking about that."