THERE was a time not too long ago that if you faced a New Zealand side that included Richie McCaw in its ranks, invariably you would end up on the losing side.
The All Blacks, with their legendary captain dominating the breakdown, simply strangled opponents’ hopes of finding any parity let alone victory.
However, that now is not always the case; as a ruthless openside, McCaw’s quality has certainly not diminished even if the legs tire a little easier now approaching the grand old age of 35.
But there are peers, not least Australia’s chief poacher David Pocock, that can now rival his command of the dark arts and can be equally destructive at ruining opponents’ ball and proving a general nuisance.
Many onlookers believe this afternoon’s Rugby World Cup final will be decided in this critical area of the game and, for once, McCaw is unlikely to have things all his own way.
Of course, plenty of neutrals will hope he can make one last decisive stand in, remarkably, his 148th Test and become the first captain to retain the World Cup by ending the hopes of their rivals from across the Tasman at Twickenham.
McCaw, who will equal Jason Leonard’s record of 22 World Cup appearances this afternoon, certainly has that ability in his locker.
Yet there is also relief he is able to actually take part in what is expected to be the great man’s final game before retiring after an initial fear of being cited following a collision with Francois Louw in last week’s tense semi-final success over Australia.
But standing before him is Pocock, the 27-year-old Zimbabwean-born flanker who arguably has been the star of this World Cup.
With an incredible 14 turnovers so far, averaging more than three per game, he has easily outgunned McCaw (six) in that department.
The image of a battered Pocock – he received two black eyes against Argentina in the semi for, as one colleague put it, “putting his head we’re you’re not supposed to” – emerging from yet another ruck having stolen possession once again must give England head coach Stuart Lancaster nightmares given his side’s lack of ability in that area during their feeble tournament.
Pocock, the Brumbies vice-captain who has shown great determination to recover from two knee reconstructions, is certainly well-fancied by many to win this battle of the two best No7s in the world.
If he can do that, just as he did when the Wallabies defeated their fierce rivals in August to lift the Rugby Championship, they will be on their way to a first World Cup success since 1999.
That victory just a few months ago was a first win in 12 games against the All Blacks, which will raise confidence in their ranks and remind everyone that this New Zealand side is not impregnable.
Yet some will say it is destiny that the great warrior McCaw –renowned across the globe and whose coach Steve Hansen said this could be the greatest player of all time – will depart in glory.
It should be a fascinating contest and with such quality in the support cast with the likes of Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams, Israeal Folau and Michael Hooper to name just four, someone else could easily emerge as the star of this World Cup contest.
However, whoever emerge victorious will owe a debt to the graft of these breakdown kings, McCaw and Pocock, as that is where this tournament will be decided.
Coach Michael Cheika insists his underdogs are determined to make the country proud.
“We haven’t tried to manufacture anything, we’ve just try to let things happen,” said Cheika.
“You feel the support and have to make sure that you use it to push you on from being just comfortable.
“You can think ‘I’m in the final so it’s all good’, or you can go out and do something great. We don’t want to be comfortable.”