The jackal at the tackle
Takapuna, North Island
Those big-name fly-halves might still have the modeling contracts and skincare endorsements but they can keep them. The open-side flankers are on the rumble - and the message is clear: run away, glamourpuss, the jackal in the tackle is here.
Each of this weekend's four semi-finalists have a number seven in their side that strike fear deep into opposition hearts. Wales have Sam Warburton, France the unyielding Thierry Dusautoir (who actually wears six in the French style); New Zealand the relentless Richie McCaw and Australia the man they call 'Bam Bam', Queenslander David Pocock, 23.
That three of the four are also their country's skipper is no coincidence. That Pocock is not - yet - shouldn't fool you for a minute into thinking that he is anything less than their equal.
Heavenly sevens Richie McCaw, Thierry Dusautoir, Sam Warburton and David Pocock. Photos: PA, Reuters and Getty
He may even be the best of the lot. Rugby logic dictates the Wallabies's 11-9 larceny of South Africa last Sunday simply shouldn't have happened. The Springboks had 76% of territory and spent a total of 11 minutes camped in the opposition 22.
That it did had a little to do with the early injury to South Africa's own breakdown supremo Heinrich Brussow and a lot more with Pocock's own magic numbers - 26 tackles, three of his side's remarkable tally of nine turnovers and countless disruptions to the opposition ball.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans described it the best individual performance of the tournament so far. Some of those wearing opposition colours weren't quite so convinced.
Jackals have never been the most popular of beasts. All that scavenging and stealing tends to go down badly with those in possession, which helps explains why Pocock's champion display was labeled with a rather less pleasant c-word in some circles this week - "cheat'".
Pocock won't rise to the bait. "It's been pretty funny this week, looking at my Twitter timeline and seeing what the fans are saying," he told a packed news conference.
"It's fairly standard in a game these days that number sevens cop a bit of heat from the opposition and that goes for McCaw as well."
If Pocock has stand-out characteristics, they are the classics of his position - speed to the tackle and head-down, rump-up strength when he gets there.
His absence with a back injury was a critical factor in the 15-9 pool game loss to Ireland. Against the Springboks he was not so much a thorn in the side as a human JCB, long yellow arms reaching down to dig the ball from the pile of green shirts with mechanical regularity and relentless energy.
"You've got to try to get in as quick as you can," he said. "As an arriving player, if the ruck's not formed, you've got all the rights and you continue to have those rights as long as you don't put your hands on the ball.
"That's the main focus - and then listen to what the referee is saying."
Ah, the referee. So hands-off was Bryce Lawrence when it came to hands on the ball in Wellington that he may as well have approached each breakdown with an arm thrown theatrically across his face.
It may well be the same again in the Wallabies's crunch semi-final against the All Blacks. Craig Joubert will be in charge, just a week after he was similarly relaxed while running the Wales v Ireland quarter-final in which Warburton impressed so much.
Pocock is unlikely to be too rattled by the barbs and accusations.
Pocock on the semis: "We have to step up from last week in the breakdown once again." Photo: Getty
As a boy growing up in Gweru, Zimbabwe, he experienced first-hand the ugliest side of the Mugabe regime. His family and hundreds of local workers were chased off their farm by government gangs and their next-door neighbour was shot dead as the violence escalated.
The Pococks fled to Brisbane, David's father taking odd jobs as gardener and factory-worker to make ends meet, with one of his younger brothers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their experiences.
The elder Pocock sought escape through sport, throwing himself into both rugby and water polo at the city's Anglican Church Grammar School and starring at centre, outside his Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper, in the school first XV.
He was only switched to the back-row during a two-day Under-16s representative trial, coming up against future team-mates Will Genia and Kurtley Beale on the way through. He made the Australia schoolboys side in 2005 and skippered the Aussie Under-20s team at their respective World Cup.
The senior international bow was a controversial one, coming at the expense of the legendary marauder George Smith - the most-capped Australia forward and the youngest player to have played 100 Tests. Three years and 37 caps later, the doubters have long since been silenced.
His battle with three-time IRB player of the year McCaw on Sunday is likely to be both the defining aspect of the semi-final and of his own career this far.
With stories about McCaw's injured right foot dominating the front pages of the New Zealand newspapers, Pocock may even start as the man in superior form.
Former All Blacks number seven Josh Kronfeld said this week he already rates Pocock as the world's best open-side. Pocock himself is as modest as an Aussie sportsman could ever be. When asked if he agreed, he replied: "I really don't know. I will leave that to you guys to talk about."
But his captain and coach were displaying no such bashfulness. Deans added: "The world is blessed with some very good snafflers at the moment but he is clearly a huge influence in any game he plays in. We would clearly be poorer for his absence."
Captain and lock James Horwill agrees. He said: "He's a guy who makes a difference on the ground to the whole team. We love to have him around and on the field."
The man himself is refusing to take anything for granted. Pocock insisted: "The All Blacks offer a different set of threats. They use a bit more footwork and their work at the breakdown across the board is a bit better [than South Africa] and more contested.
"We have to step up from last week in the breakdown once again."
At 30, McCaw is the old master. But the wham-bam from 'Bam Bam' could yet leave his young rival as the jackal with the last laugh.