In almost exactly two years, the All Blacks will begin their World Cup defence but before they get to Japan, they will have to endure the toughest schedule of their professional history.

The decision to cut Super Rugby from 18 to 15 teams may end up saving the competition's revenue base, but it may break some of New Zealand's best players in the process. Strangely less in this case definitely means more.

Some will say England, others Ireland or the Wallabies, maybe even South Africa, but the biggest threat to the All Blacks in 2019 is likely to be the tyranny of travel and the prospect of them reaching September 2019 with almost nothing left in the tank.

Fatigue could be the hidden enemy if the All Blacks don't have a detailed and empathetic player management plan mapped out over the next two years.


Injury could be the other factor that derails them - there will be attrition, the question is how much and whom it affects?

Between now and the next World Cup, New Zealand's leading players are going to clock up around 320,000km of air travel, play 25 tests, two tour games and 16 brutal local derby Super Rugby contests.

There is another 16 Super Rugby games to fit on top of that, plus potentially up to six playoff matches - which means there are 65 high impact contests to be faced before the World Cup.

The volume of rugby is not the problem per se. It is the intensity of what lies ahead that has coaches a little fearful about the welfare of their players. In the wake of the All Blacks' record 57-0 victory against the Springboks, there has been ample commentary that the international game lacks genuine competitiveness.

But the players fervently disagree. Despite the scoreline, most All Blacks involved at North Harbour rated that test one of the most intense and demanding they had played. Half the team went straight to bed when they arrived back at their hotel.

"The Boks threw everything at us and to be honest that first half went bloody quick," said All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

"It was a pretty intense half of footy and to be honest I don't know how we ended up by so many points. It was tit-for-tat, but we got four opportunities and took all of them and maybe that was the difference."

That same sense of exhaustion came after the 35-29 win against the Wallabies in late August - it was a contest that took most involved to the edge of their physical and mental limits. There is, no matter how it may look, no easy test for the All Blacks.

And while Super Rugby next year is only a one-game jump from 15 to 16 regular season games, it is the fact that the New Zealand teams will have to play eight and not six games against each other that is causing the concern.

"We appreciate that fans love local derbies, but this wasn't our preference," says New Zealand Rugby Players' Association boss Rob Nichol.

"But we recognise the situation that New Zealand Rugby Union and Sanzaar were in. These games take a lot out of the players and we made that clear. We feel the competition maybe has too much dessert [local derbies] and not enough of the main meal [cross conference games]."

Compounding the issue is that the revamped competition structure means that some New Zealand teams face two long haul trips - one to South Africa and one to Japan.

Depending on how the playoff mix unfolds, it is probable that at least one, if not two, New Zealand teams will have to endure another trip to South Africa - which adds another 24,000km of air travel.

Also already booked is a test in Tokyo in November next year on the way to Europe where the All Blacks will face England for the first time since 2014.

The first Bledisloe Cup clash in 2019 will be played in Perth - handing the All Blacks an 11,000km round trip and the air miles could be increased further depending on where the Bledisloe Cup contests are played next year.

New Zealand and Australia will both host one each - in Auckland and Sydney respectively - but a third game, most likely to be played in mid-to-late October, is possibly going to be taken to a neutral venue and the revenue shared.

The All Blacks and Wallabies have previously played reach other in Hong Kong, in 2008 and 2010 and Tokyo in 2009. There was a feeling by the end of that three-year stretch that Asia had it's fill of test rugby.

New York has been touted as a possible option for next year, but with the All Blacks having to be in Tokyo on November 3 to play Japan, that would be unlikely.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew says an announcement will be made soon.