Bath and England prop David Flatman has labelled All Blacks captain Richie McCaw as a cheat; albeit with admiration for the New Zealander's prowess in the dark arts.
With McCaw set to lead New Zealand against old rivals Australia in the semi-finals of the World Cup this weekend, Flatman said: "Credit to McCaw, the only way to reach 100 caps as an openside flanker is to learn how to cheat and he's perfected that art. You see him more than any other No.7 in the world, lying in awkward positions and slowing down ball. He is a class apart. What's more impressive is how often he gets away with it."
McCaw continues to struggle with a foot injury and with the inspirational Dan Carter already ruled out for the rest of the tournament, the captain's fitness is vital if New Zealand are to reach the final and have a shot of winning their first Webb Ellis Trophy since 1987. Having become the first All Black to reach a century of caps in the pool match against France, McCaw was joined in the 100 club by team-mate Mils Muliaina who reached the landmark in the quarter-final with Argentina.
First New Zealand must dispose of a confident Wallabies side when they meet this Sunday. Flatman predicts the battle between McCaw and his opposite No. 7, David Pocock, could be brutal: "Australia's key man will be Pocock. He is so powerful and arguably a better specialist poacher at the breakdown than McCaw, but the All-Black captain's all-round game is more effective. He is a better link up player and makes more yards as a ball carrier."
Of the other semi-final, Flatman expects Wales to come out on top against their Six Nations rivals France: "Make no mistake, if Wales perform to the same standards as they did last week, they will beat France." Flatman singles out Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Bonnaire of France as the players Wales will need to contain, "[they] are outstanding operators in the air and equally as devastating feasting on scraps at the ruck."
Should the Welsh reach their first World Cup final, Flatman warns they will have to play the game of their lives to stand any chance. Meanwhile if it is the hosts lining up against them, they could do with a bit of extra luck: "Carter's obviously out injured, but Wales could do with McCaw's foot getting a little bit worse too," Flatman semi-joked.
David Flatman is blogging for Maximuscle, official sports nutrition partner of the Welsh Rugby Union, during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Read Flatman’s blog at www.maximuscle.com/blog