Former All Black Michael Jones has been named Rugby World Cup volunteer ambassador.

Prime Minister John Key informally announced the appointment at a press conference this afternoon.

Jones will be "the face of the tournament" and promote the volunteer programme.

He said it was a "great honour" to be selected and he hoped to inspire others to volunteer in the community.

Jones said the invitation to be the ambassador for the programme was hard to turn down as the spirit of voluntary work was what kept grass-roots sports clubs ticking over.

He said Petone Rugby Football Club was a fitting place to launch the programme as it had 125 years of history, was highly decorated on the sporting front and had been a home club to past and present All Blacks.

"As a player I couldn't have achieved what I did without the tireless support of so many unpaid, enthusiastic people who turned up to help me train and play, who maintained the clubrooms, who made the tea and sliced the oranges. They all made a difference."

Rugby New Zealand 2011 will next week begin a nationwide roadshow to recruit volunteers for a variety of roles in towns and cities across New Zealand.

More than 5,000 volunteers are required to work both inside and outside stadia, assisting with tasks ranging from helping visitors at hotels and transport hubs to working at ceremonies and presentations.

"RWC 2011 is a priceless opportunity to showcase New Zealand to the world and our volunteers will play a big part in making sure we as a country put our best foot forward," Key said.

"We want visitors to leave with the very best memories of their time here so it is important we find the right volunteers."

At least 85,000 overseas visitors were expected during the tournament and "about a billion eyeballs" around the world were likely to watch parts of it on TV. It would be the biggest sporting event hosted here and may not be surpassed, he said.

The volunteer uniforms will be unveiled at a later date, but Mr Key said the silver fern would be prominently displayed, despite opposition last year from International Rugby Board heads which wanted a neutral look.

Rugby World Cup 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said the roles would not be glamorous, and no free match tickets would be handed out, but volunteers would be the "shop front" of the tournament, playing a vital role in enhancing the experience of visitors and helping shape what visitors think of our country.

He also said it was about more than just rugby.

"Volunteers will play an important role in helping visitors enjoy New Zealand beyond just the matches as they experience the array of RWC 2011 festival events that will be wrapped around the tournament."

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully said he was confident more than 5000 people would put their hands up for volunteer roles and international experiences of a similar nature had been studied and would give a steer on how the programme should be managed.

Six former All Blacks have also been recruited as general ambassadors. They are Jonah Lomu, Sean Fitzpatrick, John Kirwan, David Kirk, Andrew Mehrtens and Andy Haden.

- NZHERALD STAFF, NZPA