Skysports.com's rugby union writer Tony Curtis casts his eye over the men who could decide the final destination of the RWC
Last Updated: October 14, 2011 5:12pm
Forget the flair of the backs or the power of the front-row, it is the battle of the No.7s that could decide the final destination of the Rugby World Cup.
And with four of the world's leading exponents of the dark arts of the openside in action in the semi-finals this weekend, skysports.com looks at the men who will be aiming to dominate the breakdown at Eden Park.
Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
The All Blacks captain has held the tag as the world's leading openside for nearly decade - something backed up by his hat-trick of IRB Player of the Year awards.
He is the king of the breakdown and has an unerring ability to turn over the ball. So good is he at disrupting the opposition's possession at rucks, the 30-year-old has long had to deal with cheating accusations.
Rather than indulging in foul play, though, McCaw plays the referees brilliantly and adapts to their individual interpretation of laws around the breakdown.
David Pocock (Australia)
The heir apparent to McCaw's titles, Pocock has further enhanced his reputation at the Rugby World Cup.
It is no coincidence that the Wallabies came unstuck against Ireland in the pool stages when Pocock was forced to pull out at the 11th hour. And such is his importance to the team that the Wallabies were determined to get him back into action as soon as possible.
His work-rate in the last-eight win over South Africa was phenomenal, with his 23 tackles and constant turnovers frustrating the Springboks - and earning him the sort of condemnation from opposition fans usual reserved for McCaw.
Sam Warburton (Wales)
The Wales skipper has been in scintillating form in New Zealand - with Warburton leading by example as Warren Gatland's men reached their first semi-final since 1987.
Having studied the way McCaw plays and honed his skills under Martyn Williams at Cardiff Blues, Warburton has become a master poacher and a constant thorn in the side of the opposition.
Already dubbed as Europe's McCaw, the 23-year-old has a bright future ahead in a world where the dark arts rule.
Julien Bonnaire (France)
The Frenchman might not have garnered the same number of headlines as the other three opensides in the semi-final, but that could be to his rivals' detriment.
The 33-year-old battle-hardened veteran is not afraid to put his head and body on the line, while his game has evolved as the laws surrounding the breakdown have changed.
Not content with getting his hands dirty, Bonnaire, who played a key role in slowing down England's possession in the quarter-final, is also an aggressive tackler around the fringes of the breakdown.