Dane Coles thanks Keven Mealamu for his influence
Dane Coles has hailed All Blacks rival and mentor Keven Mealamu for turning him into the world's best hooker.
Free-running front-rower Coles is poised to start Saturday's World Cup final against Australia, storming from mediocrity to the world summit in three years of Test rugby.
The 28-year-old's early career was blighted by a love of high-jinx and the odd beer, but he admitted turning his rugby around in 2012.
Coles can cement his reputation as the game's premier hooker against Australia at Twickenham, and admitted he has 36-year-old Mealamu to thank for his Test elevation.
"Keven's influence has been massive," said Coles.
"He's the guy I looked up to watching footie, and to be in the same team as him is huge.
"I've had countless conversations with him to try to improve my game.
"And he's probably the main reason why I am where I am now.
"I can't put into words how much he's done for me, he's a very special man and someone I've gone to countless times to improve my game."
Along with Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith, the World Cup final will represent one last turn in New Zealand's black for Mealamu.
The evergreen hooker will likely start on the bench, to be sent into action for the crucial final quarter.
If joining forces with Mealamu has turned Coles into an All Blacks mainstay, parting ways with Andrew Hore handed him the spur to fulfil his potential.
When 83-cap All Blacks hooker Hore left the Hurricanes in 2012, Coles said he finally realised he could no longer accept taking a seat on the bench for either club or country.
"It was probably the departure of Andrew Hore in a good way, him going to the Highlanders," said Coles.
"I'd been on the bench for three years, I always wanted to be an All Black, and when he departed I thought 'next year I'm going to be an All Black'.
"And I just did everything in my power to get myself a chance and I achieved that.
"So I enjoyed the festivities and then once that was through I just worked my a*** off, made a lot of sacrifices, because I really wanted to be an All Black and eventually I got the chance.
"You always dream to be in these moments but until you're actually here you don't believe it.
"I remember watching 2011 as just a fan.
"To be here and maybe get a chance to play, it's a dream come true.
"I just can't wait."
Australia's much-improved scrum has proved a feature of the tournament, former Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma transforming the Wallabies' set-piece amid boss Michael Cheika's backroom staff.
The Wallabies were battered at the scrum by Argentina on Sunday however, but were still able to escape unscathed en route to 29-15 victory.
Coles tipped Australia to produce a potent scrum against the All Blacks this weekend, whether or not loosehead Scott Sio recovers to boost their resources.
"They are a quality pack," said Coles.
"The Argentina game looked pretty bruising for them, I've got huge respect for how they go about their work.
"They work hard for each other so it will be a battle.
"They've taken their scrum to another level, so we've got to do the work during the week to counter that.
"They've been really consistent throughout the tournament and put in a lot of work to be a dominant pack in world rugby."
Assistant coach Ian Foster vowed not to linger on the passing of a host of All Blacks greats this weekend.
Foster insisted New Zealand do not need to alter their approach to combat Australia's twin breakdown threat of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, then rejected the need to mark the end of an era for a clutch of superstars.
"I don't think we need to spend much time on it at all," said Foster.
"It's a Rugby World Cup final.
"We've talked about this particular game for a long, long time.
"We've wanted to be here, we've worked hard to be here, for all the team whether they're moving on or not, it's all about the here and now.
"There will be plenty of time to talk about the future after the game."