Scans have confirmed that David Pocock has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will now face at least six months on the sideline recovering. So where does that leave the Wallabies?
In the immediate future the loss of Pocock will be felt keenly by the Wallabies side.
His experience and ability to single-handedly keep his team in the match on his night is not going to be easy to replace. The match against South Africa in the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-final springs to mind as one such example of his quality.
However the replacements for Pocock have been knocking on the door for a while now. It’s possible that giving more time to these players will provide a dimension to the Wallabies we haven’t seen for a long time.
In 2012, Pocock missed a lot of Wallabies’ rugby due to keyhole surgery to clean up cartilage in his right knee (the ACL tear is in his left knee).
That absence left room for the player that was arguably the revelation of Australian rugby in 2012 to leap into the Wallabies number seven jumper – Michael Hooper.
Hooper brings a more all-round game to the number seven than Pocock has traditionally. Hooper is extraordinarily quick for a man of his size and he regularly gains surprising metres in traffic or through small gaps.
Memorably, he had a hard time controlling the ball in his first Wallabies appearance against Wales, but since then the norm has been his ability to link the forwards and the backs with crisp passing.
Hooper isn’t a mug in the ruck either, he’s able to poach a ball when his team needs it, but is also just as likely to try and drive the opposition off the ball as get his hands on it.
The other option to replace Pocock is Liam Gill, the Reds awesome flanker.
He plays a role similar to Pocock in that he prides himself on being the first to the ball on every ruck and is harder to remove than a blind pimple once he gets there.
Turnovers are his specialty, but he isn’t poor around the park either; he is careful when running and usually presents quality ball for his team going forward.
Recently Gill has even added a left boot (but not right!) to his game.
Looking immediately to June, the Lions are probably happier knowing the ruck terror of Pocock won’t be available to make life hell.
But the great thing about Pocock’s replacements is you don’t really get the feeling we’ve reached anything like a ceiling of improvement.
Gill is obviously becoming more and more of a running player and a vocal leader around the park.
Hooper is becoming a leader by example and buries himself every game he plays, while paying great attention to his in-tight influence.
For instance, you’ll notice that Hooper was the one closest to the ball when the Brumbies great rolling maul scored a try for them on the weekend.
Against the Lions you can bet whoever gets game time is going to elevate their performance to another level.
While Pocock made noises about adding new elements to his game this year, we’ve already seen the fruit of Gill and Hooper being able to do just that in their shorter careers.
Will Genia also tore his ACL back in September of last year in a win over South Africa in Perth.
His recovery is set to be fully complete when the Reds take on the Force next weekend – that is a confirmation of the six-month recovery period.
Genia is returning ahead of the original schedule. If it is a result of maniacal rehab dedication on the part of Genia, I’d expect Pocock to emulate that level of dedication.
The thing is that everyone’s body is different and each tear and repair will be a different scenario as well.
It can’t be guaranteed that Pocock will be ready to return to competitive rugby by early September. The timing of the injury may mean that Pocock doesn’t play another competitive rugby match until February 2014.
So between now and at least September, and possibly February next year, we will have the nail-biting experience of watching two prodigious young talents get the opportunity to put their stamp on the Wallabies open-side flanker position.
Gill and Hooper have particular strengths and weaknesses, but both have the appearance of men who are out to address those and become complete footballers.
While Pocock is going to be missed, especially in the short-term, it’s a tantalising prospect to see what these multi-talented youngsters can produce at the highest level.