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All Blacks head to Japan aiming to peak at the right time

The All Blacks head to Japan today with confidence boosted by the demolition of Tonga 92-7 in their final warm-up before the World Cup and mindful they will need to pace themselves despite a blockbusting opening match against South Africa on Sept 21.

The Springboks loom as the biggest threat to the All Blacks' hopes of winning a third successive trophy, while England, Ireland and Wales are also genuine contenders.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, however, will be well aware of the perils of not heeding what lies ahead of them as it can trip a side up during the tournament, like New Zealand's unsuccessful campaign in 2007.

After sweeping through pool play, the All Blacks crashed out in the quarter-finals to France and admitted afterwards that they probably became too focused on the ultimate prize rather than their next game.

The team took lessons from that campaign and applied them to successful tournaments in 2011 and 2015 and Hansen said in Hamilton yesterday they were heading to Japan mindful of all they had learnt in the intervening years.

"You've got to pace yourself," he said. "You don't win the tournament in the first round and once you get to the knockout round, you've got to earn the right to come back and train on Monday."

The opener against the Springboks in Yokohama would likely determine the winners of Pool B and the quarter-final place against the Pool A runners-up. The losers will likely face Ireland, who are projected to win Pool A.

Meanwhile, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said New Zealand are the firm favourites despite the Irish heading into the tournament as world No. 1 for the first time in their history.

He said: "That label will not be relevant in Japan. We all know who are favourites for the World Cup and it is not us." - REUTERS, AFP

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