After an age of inquiry, months of hypothesis and soul-searching, the Rugby World Cup is finally here.

Back at Eden Park, where the global rugby carnival began as an uncertain festival in 1987 before it surged into a massive quadrennial event which defines the rugby calendar.

As New Zealand and the All Blacks know all too well, they continue to rule the global ratings but they have not claimed another Webb Ellis Cup which defines a team's place in rugby history.

Even if they manage to annex the trophy and complete the 24-year circle the taunts will come about the All Blacks being capable of only winning on their home decks.


That will not concern the class of 2011 or their coaching staff. But we are getting well ahead of ourselves.

Referee George Clancy will signal the start of the seventh tournament at Eden Park tonight as the All Blacks resume the search to end 20 years of hurt since they surrendered their initial and only title in Dublin.

The All Blacks are hosting Tonga, neighbours from the South Pacific with a core of players who were schooled in rugby in New Zealand.

Captain Finau Maka played professional rugby for three franchises in New Zealand before heading to Europe and he has a group of senior players with similar experience. The No 8 passed a fitness test on his sore Achilles tendon yesterday as both sides had light hit-outs at the World Cup arena.

"We have got to make sure we meet the Tongan passion," All Black skipper Richie McCaw said on the eve of his 99th test outing in the black jersey.

Nothing is surer than the arrival of Pacific Island fervour. Technical adviser John McKee promised a disciplined Tonga were determined to present a solid defensive line and give their hosts a serious physical test.

"It's important that we get a blend of playing with the natural raw flair that the players have got, but also having a little bit of structure in our games to enable us to use it as a launching pad," he said.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith noted the size and athleticism in the Tongan pack but was certain the All Blacks would stand up to that challenge.

Their response will be noted by all their tournament rivals after the way the Wallaby pack opened up the All Blacks in their last hit-out a fortnight ago. McCaw is the man who will set the tone for the hosts.

"I am not walking away from the fact that a World Cup is the biggest stage," he said, "and you want to prove yourself on that.

"If you haven't gone out and done the job on that stage, I guess personally it will be one of those things of annoyance that will sit there. As you get older you put it into context and I am not walking away from the fact that it is a pretty big event."

So after successive losses against the Springboks and Wallabies, the All Blacks start the tournament with four survivors who began their last fateful World Cup outing in Cardiff. McCaw, Daniel Carter, Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock made up that quartet and are core to a strong return tonight.

If the All Blacks go wide as loosely as they did in Brisbane a fortnight ago, they will take a caning. But if they crunch into their direct work early, if they take the sting out of Tonga by asking them to make plenty of tackles, then they have a backline who can make defence awkward for Tonga.

This will be a test of the All Blacks' methods, their responses to a variety of tasks and a chance to gauge whether they can adjust their game on the hoof without having to go to the halftime team talks.

Live scoring: All Blacks v Tonga - kickoff 8.30pm

The teams in tonight's game:

New Zealand:

Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Victor Vito, Jimmy Cowan, Daniel Carter, Isaia Toeava, Sonny Bill Williams, Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Israel Dagg. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane


Vungakoto Lilo, Viliame Iongi, Sukanaivalu Hufanga, Andre Ma'ilei, Siale Piutau, Kurt Morath, Taniela Moa, Viliami Ma'afu, Finau Maka (c) , Sione Kalamafoni, Joseph Tuineau, Paino Hehea, Taufa'ao Filise, Aleki Lutui, Soane Tonga'uiha Reserves: Ephraim Taukafa, Alisona Taumalolo, Kisi Pulu, Sione Timani, Samiu Vahafolau, Samisoni Fisilau, Aviate Fatafehi.