Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast are the New Zealand rowing squad's benchmark when the world championships start in Plovdiv, Bulgaria tonight.

If they win, the country's campaign to match last year's seven medals and stay in the sport's top echelon will receive a significant boost.

Their combination is the most successful in the elite team, with a world championship medal-winning record extending to coxless four gold in 2014 alongside Kelsey Bevan and Kayla Pratt.

Gowler and Prendergast earned silver in the pair and eight at the 2015 world championships but were replaced by Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent for the Rio Games and asked to focus on the eight.

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They returned to win the world championships in the pair last year, and set a world-best time of 6m 49.08s at the Poznan World Cup earlier in the season.

As defending world champions, Gowler, 24, and Prendergast, 26, are upholding a legacy stretching to 2004.

Since Nicky Coles and Juliette Haigh (now Drysdale) combined for the Athens Olympics, New Zealand have never missed the women's pair final at the pinnacle event of a season. A Kiwi crew has medalled at every world championships and Olympics from 2009 onwards.

There have been five transitions in the meantime – Scown and Haigh, to Scown and Emma-Jane Feathery, to Scown and Haigh, to Scown and Pratt, to Scown and Louise Trappitt, to Gowler and Prendergast – but the consistency remains.

The incumbent duo loom as podium contenders at Tokyo 2020 in a discipline where New Zealand secured medals at the last two Games.

They have won 11 straight races across heats, semi-finals and finals at World Cups and world championships.

However, the Canadian combination of Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens pushed them within 0.43s in their most recent race, the World Cup victory at Lucerne.

"That was really important for us to have a hard race and good competition to avoid getting complacent before heading into the [five-week] training block at home," Prendergast told the Herald from Bulgaria.

"You wouldn't want to get caught off guard going into a world champs knowing there wouldn't be other tough crews."

"We took nothing but positives out of that race," Gowler added.

"To win both World Cups places us in a position of confidence going into the world championships. We've settled in well, so now it's about how much speed we can find with our coach Gary [Hay].

"He tries to remind us of all the work we've put in, the sessions we've done and the speed we've gained before we put it out there on the racecourse."

That includes abstaining from a couple of the pair's favourite indulgences: pork belly for Prendergast and vat milk for Gowler.

The pair train alongside Hay's other crew, lightweight double scullers Zoe McBride and Jackie Kiddle, who took silver at last year's edition.

"We do the majority of sessions side-by-side," Prendergast said.

"We're a similar speed and it's nice to have another crew to work off and target as to what's good speed and what's not.

"It's a fun time leading into racing. The rows are shorter and faster and we're feeling a bit fresher as we put our final race pieces together."

World championship medals won by Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast

2014 – coxless four, silver
2015 – coxless pair, silver
2015 – eight, silver
2017 – coxless pair, gold