McCaw and Carter lead All Black legends into retirement – pictures
No fewer than five stars of the New Zealand side will be hanging up their All Black jerseys after the final against Australia
New Zealand have named their team for the Rugby World Cup final against Australia on Saturday, with four of the starting XV almost certainly playing their final game for the All Blacks.
Captain Richie McCaw, the most capped player in history and regarded by many as the greatest ever, is expected to announce his retirement after the tournament. Fellow rugby legends Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, with a total of 306 caps between them, are all heading to France to play club rugby, which will make them ineligible to play for the All Blacks.
Hooker Keven Mealamu, with 131 caps, will be on the bencjh for his final appearance before he takes up a new role as an ambassador with the Auckland rugby union.
The greatest All Black ever began his career in 2001 and became the most capped player in international rugby earlier this year, overtaking Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland.
He has 147 caps under his belt and the final will be his 148th. He also has an incredible win ratio of almost 90 per cent, and has experienced defeat only 15 times in his 14-year international career.
He has captained New Zealand an incredible 109 times, and since he led the All Blacks to victory in 2011 his side have lost only three times.
As an openside flanker McCaw is often accused of cheating, but his disciplinary record is impressive. He has just three yellow cards in his 147 tests. Australian opponent Michael Hooper, by comparison has five in 50 tests.
However, there are signs that McCaw's star is on the wane. He received one of his three cards against Argentina earlier in the World Cup and has conceded four penalties in the tournament, and won only one.
Yet he is still regarded as perhaps the greatest player of all time, with three world player of the year awards to his name and will be hoping to bow out as the only man to captain a team to two World Cup triumphs.
New Zealand has a long history of producing brilliant fly halves, from Grant Fox to Andrew Mehrtens, but Dan Carter can lay claim to being the greatest of them all, with a world record 1579 points in 111 tests for the All Blacks.
Unlike McCaw, Carter has never tasted World Cup glory. He was part of the 2003 squad that lost to Australia, and experienced the pain of defeat in 2007 against France. But in 2011 he was injured as New Zealand won the tournament.
After the World Cup he will head to France, where he spent a season in 2008, to join Racing Metro 92 on a multi-million euro three-year deal. That will make him ineligible for New Zealand, whose players must be based at home and at 33 he is unlikely to play for the All Blacks if he returns home.
Carter has two world player of the year awards to his name, and while he might not be the creative force he once was can still bend a game to his will.
Now 36 the hooker has 131 caps to his name, making him the most-capped front row forward of all time. His record is all the more impressive as he has had stern competition for the number two jersey for most of his 13-year career, vying first with Andrew Hore and now Dane Coles for the role.
Mealamu is exceptionally mobile for a front rower and also has a good line-out throw, attributes that have kept him in the squad for so long.
He was a key member of the 2011 World Cup campaign and has captained the side three times. He is also renowned as one of the nicest people in the sport.
Nonu's transformation from flamboyant outside centre, who wore mascara and had coloured beads adorning his dreadlocks, into a hugely intimidating inside centre in both attack and defence sums up how New Zealand can transform a player for the benefit of the collective.
Like Carter and Mealamu he broke into the All Blacks team in 2003 but took some time to establish himself. He was left out of the 2007 World Cup squad but after rumours of a move to rugby league committed to the 15-man code and became a key member of the team, with 102 caps to his name.
Now 33 he will join European champions Toulon on a two-year deal following the tournament, which means he is unlikely to pull on an All Blacks shirt after the final.
Nonu's centre partner is one of three Smiths in the New Zealand team. He is perhaps the least celebrated of the five players heading for international retirement, and he has the fewest caps, although 93 is not a bad return.
Smith made his debut relatively late, earning his first All Blacks call-up in 2004 at the age of 23. And, like Nonu, Smith did not establish himself in the side until 2008. Since then the two centres have provided a solid partnership and have become known as The Firm.
Now 34, Smith will take up a two-year contract with French club Pau after the final.