9 Sep 2019

All Blacks: Are they ready for the Rugby World Cup?

7:15 am on 9 September 2019

The All Blacks fly to Japan this morning for the Rugby World Cup. Are they on track for an unprecedented third straight title?

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 17:  Kieran Read of the All Blacks performs the Haka with team mates during The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 17, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: POOL)

Photo: POOL / Photosport NZ

They finished their preparations with a 92-7 thrashing of Tonga in Hamilton on the weekend, and now have two weeks before the first pool game against South Africa.

George Bridge scored four of the All Blacks 14 tries against Ikale Tahi and he and fellow wing Sevu Reece appear irreplaceable right now.

The same goes for loose forwards Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and skipper Kieran Read, and most of the All Blacks tight five are probably sorted for their opening World Cup clash with the Springboks.

Coach Steve Hansen is happy with where they're at.

"Early on in the season we probably didn't play as well as we would have liked (the scratchy win over Argentina and draw with South Africa) and showed up in Perth a little bit underdone and probably with a poor attitude.

"But we rectified that at Eden Park and now we've had a good hitout (Tonga) and have everyone available (bar Brodie Retallick). As long as everything goes well over the next 14 days we'll be in good shape."

Hansen was relieved to come away from the Tonga Test with no serious injuries and the coach, who's already won two world cups, said he's more motivated than ever.

"I'm probably even more excited about this one. We've got a massive opportunity to do something that's never been done before, obviously that's to win three of them in a row and that's the kind of pressure you want to be under.

"You want to be able to go there and have a crack at it. Imagine how exciting it will be if we do it, so we've got to meet it head-on."

It's clear the All Blacks are going to try and play at a pace that's too rapid for even the most committed of rush defences.

Prop Joe Moody says they've had to adapt.

"The game plan that we are playing, there's now a lot of getting around the field, from side to side, and ball passing, that the front rowers didn't have to do under the old game plan. That has put some extra pressure on us to make sure we're fit enough and skilled enough to execute it."

Hansen and co have largely settled on their first choice team.

You can expect Richie Mo'unga to return to first-five and Beauden Barrett to fullback, though the midfield could be up for grabs.

Aaron Smith should be at halfback and I can't find room for Ben Smith for the clash with South Africa.

Hansen is happy to have the much anticipated pool game as their tournament opener.

"It is the biggest opening pool game we've had at a World Cup, but you've got to play them at some stage and I think it's quite good playing them first because it allows us to control what we do from there on in."

Hansen means that with other pool games against Italy, Canada and Namibia, the All Blacks will be able to better manage their player load after the Boks' game, knowing whether or not they have one foot in the quarter-finals.

Saturday's win over Tonga was the last time Hansen and many players would represent the All Blacks on New Zealand soil and while it's something he'll look back on fondly, he said now is not the time for sentiment.

"Trying very hard to stay focused on what we're trying to do which is coach a team to win a third World Cup. When you retire you've got plenty of time to reminisce and either pat yourself on the back or give yourself an uppercut, depending on how things go."

In nine weeks or perhaps less, we'll either see Hansen punching the air in celebration or punching himself in defeat.

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