Nov 3rd, 2010
The sidelines are no longer blurred in Lewis Moody's eyes so All Blacks adversary Richie McCaw views a rare head-to-head clash with the English captain with a mild sense of trepidation.
The openside flankers are set to duel at Twickenham on Sunday (NZT) for just the fourth time in their illustrious careers despite the duo having played a combined 165 tests since making their international debuts in 2001.
To place the brevity of their rivalry in context, McCaw has already combated Wallabies nemesis David Pocock four times between July 31 and last weekend- not that the All Blacks skipper does not have a clear recollection of the threat Moody can pose.
They first engaged at a breakdown during the British and Irish Lions' doomed tour of New Zealand in 2005 when Moody was promoted to the starting line-up in place of compatriot Neil Back for the second test at Wellington.
A year later, they met again at Twickenham, the venue of their most recent encounter in November last year where McCaw maintained his dominance by leading the All Blacks to a 19-6 triumph.
Comparisons are drawn between McCaw and Pocock when the attributes of the sport's most potent opensides are debated these days - but the New Zealander still holds Moody in high regard.
"I've had some good battles with him over the years. It'll be nice to get into it again," McCaw said after learning Moody had recovered from a nasty eye injury to retain his position - and the captaincy - for the first leg of the All Blacks' Grand Slam attempt.
"I've got a lot of respect for the way he plays, he throws himself into a lot of it."
To illustrate his point, as McCaw was settling into London on Sunday Moody was across town at The Stoop having 10 stitches inserted in a head wound suffered while playing for Bath against Harlequins.
The 32-year-old barely batted an eye as the claret flowed - the premiership match was his only opportunity to prove his fitness ahead of England's attempt to snap an eight-test losing streak against New Zealand.
Moody, who succeeded Steve Borthwick as captain for England's final match of the 2009 Six Nations campaign in Paris, suffered a serious facial injury last month against Gloucester and initially feared he would be blinded in one eye.
Fortunately his vision returned and the 32-year-old was able to make a safe - though bloodied - return to domestic rugby last weekend.
McCaw was hardly surprised Moody was back in action and in some respects rated him as a tougher adversary than Pocock, the Wallabies player of the year in 2010.
"Moody's a bit more physical and he does a lot of good things around the field," McCaw said.
"Pocock's got a great strength at the breakdown when you allow him to have a bit of freedom there.
"Moody's a little bit different. He's also a ball carrier and he can put a lot of pressure on backlines."
McCaw realised the All Blacks had to expect a torrid outing at Twickenham against a team which takes pride in its physicality.
"The English have the desire to engage you physically more (than Australia).
"They're prepared to knock you off the ball and gang tackle you.
"The Wallabies tackle and spread and have one guy sniffing the ball so that changes things a wee bit this week."