England vs Australia RWC 2015: How Scott Fardy was driven by horrors of tsunami

The Australian backrowers Pocock and Hooper – or ‘Pooper’ – have been hogging the headlines but the other member of the trio is just as key to what Cheika’s team do. And for him, it has been a far more harrowing journey

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It was probably the first time in the history of evolution that a brute standing 6ft 1.5in tall and weighing 18 stone was asked if he were a small man. David Pocock was leaning against a hotel wall in central London. He looked bemused at the question. Pocock is almost as wide as he is tall, so wide in fact, augmented by calves like bowling balls and arms like legs, that he appears wanting for height. 

He is, of course, one half of the nascent back row pincer movement with Michael Hooper, a fellow open side flanker who at a nip under 6ft tall and 16st qualifies, in dimension at least, as a marginally inferior being. Not that those details offer any consolation to opponents confronting Hooper on the deck. These two are the leitmotif of the Australian pack, freakishly effective in the business of breakdown robbery. 

Pocock’s penchant for political engagement has made him a point of interest beyond the rugby milieu. He cares a deal about all sorts of worthy causes from the environment to gay rights but there is no sense that he gives a hoot about anything other than advancing the cause of Australia on a rugby field today. Such is the depth at No 7 Pocock has deferred to Hooper in this World Cup and rolls out today in the No 8 jersey in the pair’s third outing as a unit. 

In keeping with their talismanic profiles it was Pocock and Hooper that Australia chose to articulate the mood of the Australian camp in the build-up to tonight’s epic meeting. The third wheel in the back row, Scott Fardy, barely attracts a second glance, especially on these shores, but he is the glue that binds the whole, and when it comes to his personal hinterland, even Pocock concedes ground.   

As coach Michael Cheika observed, Fardy had to grow the most impressive beard in the Antipodes just to get noticed. Unlike the blond hipsters at his side, Fardy came into international rugby just two years ago as a hard-boiled 29-year-old, unloved in his formative years as a pro, almost three of which were spent in Japan playing for the unheralded Kamaishi Seawaves, roughly the equivalent in cricket terms to a minor counties team.

The comforting sense of order Fardy brings to his hod-carrying role on the blind side is not only the result of an unflappable temperament. He brings to the piece life experience stiffened in Japan, which began as a punt to satisfy the wanderlust and try something different and ended with the twin assault of the 2011 earthquake, the world’s fourth largest on record registering 8.9 on the Richter scale, and subsequent 30-foot wall of water that laid waste to the coastal town in which he lived.

Half the town was under water. Cars and houses were floating off 

Scott Fardy, Australia

Fardy recalls his apartment building on the fringes of the conurbation being shaken like a rag doll. The unfolding trauma in the week that followed left an indelible impression that puts encounters like today’s, no matter how febrile in sporting terms, into obvious perspective. Almost 16,000 people lost their lives, including one member of staff at the club. “I saw a few things happen that day that were pretty nasty. It changes the way you think about things, made you think about what’s important in life, for sure,” he said at the time.

In the ensuing chaos Fardy and his team-mates joined the local rescue effort. It was a harrowing seven days in a devastated community without power surviving on nothing but snatched mouthfuls of rice. Fardy was eventually contacted by the Australian Embassy but declined evacuation. He lost more than a stone of his impressive bulk during the episode. 

“I didn’t want to leave. I was young and healthy.  There were a lot of people a lot worse. We had a bit of food and we started to eat a bit better, and stuff like that, so we did all the things we could do to help out as a team. We were safe because we were at the end of the village, but we drove a couple of kilometres down and half the town was under water. There were about four or five tsunami warnings in the two and half years I was in Japan, but we knew this one was serious. Cars and houses were just floating away.”

Fardy was in his final year in Japan when the earthquake struck. Back in Australia Jake White had one place to fill in his Brumbies squad for 2012 and reached out to Fardy, who was grateful to accept, never believing he would be recruited to the national team the following year as a result. As you might expect he credits the Japanese experience, not just the earthquake ordeal, as the making of him as a player and as a man. 

“Anyone in their late 20s has a different mentality than someone straight out of school. You definitely mature, and three years in Japan definitely helped me,” he says. “There were no nice hotels playing for the Kamaishi Seawaves. We stayed in some pretty funny joints. I was happy in Japan, but there was always something that bugged me that I wanted to come back and have a crack at Super Rugby. You want to come back and have a crack because after seeing what I saw you know one day it could all be over pretty damn quickly.”

Fardy’s emergence, and that of Hooper for that matter, coincided with Pocock’s enforced absence to rebuild chronic knees. Hooper did a fine job filling in the Pocock-sized gap, and has quickly rattled off 43 caps at just 23, including 13 as skipper. Now in harness the pair are finding out about each other. “We haven’t talked much about the partnership,” Hooper said. “We play the same position but we aren’t the same player. It is still a process. It is only two games we have started together, a couple off the bench here and there. It is exciting. It feels natural.”

It is a measure of their potency and impact that Hooper and Pocock have each picked up a man of the match award in the opening two World Cup matches, a bauble Hooper claimed on his first appearance at Twickenham two years ago. While the Australians have presented an impressively neutral face ahead of tonight’s meeting, Hooper is plugged into the game’s significance.    

“It will be a great experience on Saturday, all things considered. We are excited about that. It’s cool to walk out at Twickenham, no doubt. I’ve played in one World Cup game so far so this is going to be a new experience playing the home nation, and playing England is always awesome. We are living the moment, we are living Cheik’s set-up, and that is belief in the team and in ourselves. 

“As we see it this is about us. We are walking out their nil-all in a knockout tournament. For anyone playing at Twickenham it’s an important game. We have 80 minutes to play at the weekend. We are sick of training against each other. We’ve been doing that for months now. When you get your hands on another team it’s great. As we see it, it’s about us and how we control the outcome.” 

Mike Catt: England are focused on downing Australia (sportsbeat.co.uk)

The great Pocock concurred, and on that size thing had this to say: “Compared to most back-row forwards I might be small but it’s not difficult. I’m really enjoying it after injury. Sitting on the sidelines you realise what an opportunity you have to play at this level, to run out there representing so many people not only back in Australia, but back in Zimbabwe [his birth place] gives me so much pride and joy. We know how big the challenge will be on Saturday night and we  will have to step up again.”

Pocock and Hooper, or “Pooper” as they have become known, will do so, granted a licence to thrill by the iron figure of Fardy stationed at their side.