He might not expect the All Blacks to be pushed as much as they were when he was famously called upon in 2011, but Stephen Donald still sees two sides in particular as providing an exceptional challenge to Steve Hansen's side as they aim for a third consecutive Rugby World Cup title.

The All Blacks' folk hero after kicking the eventually decisive penalty goal in the 2011 Cup final – having previously not been named in the squad until a rash of first-five injuries – Donald, unlike some former overseas rivals, believes the All Blacks are deserving favourites for the Japan tournament.

"We're still the favourites because we're down there as defending champions with a strong and a great squad," he told the Hawke's Bay Today.

"You know, I see the All Blacks going there as the hot favourites."


Donald says Hansen's mix is lethal but, no doubt, some fine players had missed the final Cup cull of 31.

"That's because we have some great depth and young players just keep coming through but, I think we have a great team," he says. "You know, we could have probably picked another team of 15 guys who would not have looked out of place."

Stephen Donald. Photo / Photosport
Stephen Donald. Photo / Photosport

However, despite his confidence in his former side, Donald was quick with an answer when asked who the most formidable foe will be for the All Blacks once the Cup begins.

"I think South Africa are building nicely but you have to watch England, too, you know, because they are going to be a danger," he said.

"I honestly believe it's going to be one of these two games that'll probably give us the biggest scare."

The All Blacks open the Cup on September 21 against South Africa, and Donald believes it may be a sign of what's to come.

"South Africa will be our opening game in our campaign and I have a funny feeling it could be the last one for us, too - in the final."