Modern greats David Pocock and Will Genia are among eight players departing the Wallabies on a dismal note to take up offshore club contracts next year.
The tears in the Wallabies dressing room after their Rugby World Cup quarter-final humbling reflected deep disappointment at their exit and the sadness of losing some of the country’s genuinely great players.
Eight squad members have confirmed they’re moving to offshore club contracts next year, including centurions Will Genia and Sekope Kepu, along with celebrated flanker David Pocock.
Others shifting on are star midfield back Samu Kerevi, five-eighths Christian Lealiifano and Bernard Foley, and locks Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman.
Kerevi and Arnold were among Australia’s premier performers in 2019 and will be nearly impossible to replace immediately.
But it was some of the longer-serving players in the forefront of captain Michael Hooper’s thoughts following the 40-16 loss to England in Oita on Saturday.
Asked directly about the contributions of Genia and Pocock, Hooper found it hard to stomach that the departees had been farewelled on such on a flat note.
“I’ve been a fan of those guys from being a young fella, to now playing alongside (them). Very proud to represent Australia with them,” said Pocock, who is left hanging on 99 Tests.
“A lot of me wanted to be able to send those guys out how they deserved to, but we weren’t able to and that’s part of the feeling – I’m feeling pretty gutted.”
Pocock, Genia and Kepu were all lining up at their third World Cup. The latter pair finish on 110 caps, equal-sixth on the all-time Wallabies list.
“It’s the end. A bit of an outpouring of emotion after the game,” said Papua New Guinea-born halfback Genia.
“It’s been an amazing journey. I’ve been so blessed and so privileged to have lived my dream. I’m very sad but also very grateful. Like, how lucky? Got to play 11 years for Australia.”
“I never thought I was the most talented bloke, I always wanted to be someone who worked hard so put myself in a position to play well.”
Zimbabwe-born Pocock was just as proud.
A star of the two previous tournaments, he finishes with 83 caps, something he had never considered achievable.
“As an immigrant moving to Australia, rugby has given me so much opportunity. I am grateful for the support I have had in Australia and family and friends in Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans all around the world.”
Victorious England flanker Sam Underhill paid homage to Pocock and his influence.
He said he and fellow back-rower Tom Curry, who was named man of the match, had regarded it a privilege to line up opposite the legendary ball snaffler.
“It’s a bit surreal coming up against him this evening. Tom and myself were talking about it, he’s been such a brilliant player,” Underhill said.
“Any young back-row growing up in the last five or 10 years has probably looked at him as a guy that they want to be like and play like.”