The All Blacks are set for a million-dollar Rugby World Cup payday, as part of a radical plan to avoid a repeat of the near-disastrous opener four years ago which threatened to derail their campaign in the United Kingdom.
The Herald understands New Zealand Rugby has accepted an offer - believed to be well in excess of $1 million - from Kashiwa City officials to train in the city, in a significant departure from previous pre-World Cup build-ups.
The decision to agree to the four-day training camp in Kashiwa, about 50km northeast of Tokyo, was made easier by memories of having almost lost their opening game at the 2015 World Cup - and the threat posed by South Africa, who they will face first in 2019.
As such, the All Blacks, wary of being rusty and underprepared as they were when they played their opening game against Argentina at Wembley Stadium four years ago, have decided to depart for Japan earlier than initially planned and have locked in an intense preparation schedule to ensure they begin their tournament defence with the appropriate bang.
The defending champions will fly to Japan two days after they play an afternoon test against Tonga in Hamilton on September 7. They will then have the training camp in Kashiwa, before returning to the Japanese capital a week before they play the Springboks in Yokohama on September 21 to ramp up preparations for a game that most observers would consider to be the most significant pool clash of the tournament.
The decision to head to Japan two weeks prior to their opening game has been driven by a number of factors, not least of which is the realisation that the result of the clash with the Boks will have a major bearing on the rest of the tournament.
The All Blacks have been drawn in a pool with South Africa, Namibia, Canada and Italy and barring the most extraordinary shock, the result of the test against the Boks will determine which of the two heavyweights finish on top.
The All Blacks have never lost a pool game but arguably their test against the Boks is the toughest they have ever faced.
South Africa beat them in Wellington last year and will feel they should have done so again two weeks later in Pretoria when they held a 31-18 lead with 15 minutes to go.
In their opening game in 2015 against the Pumas, the All Blacks were disjointed and laboured to the extent that with 15 minutes left, they were behind and an upset was on the cards.
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They scraped home, in the end, thanks largely to a high-impact performance from Sonny Bill Williams off the bench, but the All Blacks fear that if they start so poorly again this time, they won't be able to claw their way back against a side as good as South Africa.
In that match at Wembley four years ago, they looked like a team that hadn't played a test for six weeks, which is why the All Blacks have arranged a fixture against Tonga on September 7 – to try to play out some of the inevitable rustiness that will creep in following their Bledisloe Cup test against Australia on August 17.
Last time around the All Blacks arrived in England 10 days before their opening game on September 19 but hadn't played a test since they had hammered Australia at Eden Park on August 15.
They trained at their base in south-west London, believing that they had ample time to ready themselves.
This time, having arranged an extra test against Tonga, the All Blacks have replicated their 2015 preparation and arrived 10 days prior to their first match, but are fully aware the probable heat and humidity in Japan at that time of year is a complicating factor.
Temperatures could be sitting around 30 degrees Celsius and humidity could be in excess of 85 per cent so the All Blacks want maximum exposure to acclimatise before their opening game.
The result of that first game will matter as the winner of the group will play the runner-up of Pool A which contains Ireland, Scotland and Japan.
On current rankings, Ireland will be favourites to finish top and hence the All Blacks, who lost in Dublin last year, would rather take on Scotland in the quarter-final.