They might not be the top ranked team in the world at the start of the tournament, but the All Blacks won't have to wait long for a chance to prove they're still the team to beat at the Rugby World Cup.

Meeting fellow contenders South Africa in the opening round of pool play, there won't be any chance of showing up and easing their way into form. Instead, they'll start their campaign with what should be the game that decides who wins their pool, with Canada, Namibia and Italy rounding out the group.

"It is what it is," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said of the draw. "I think if you look at every country they've got a draw that is going to have some peaks and troughs.

"For us, we love it. Coming in and playing South Africa first, the challenge is there right in front of us isn't it? There's no way that anyone is going to drift into this game, so it's going to set the World Cup for us really strongly. We know we've got to get over there and be at our best straight away, then after that we'll just see what happens in that game and modify things."


The All Blacks were set to fly out for Japan this morning, and will have the best part of two weeks to acclimatise themselves to what are expected to be hot conditions before trotting out onto the park against South Africa on September 21.

Foster said the All Blacks had been working on what to expect in Japan for the past few years, and a two week trip to the country last November was an important part of that process.

You plan to the best of your ability, but part of that is you know things are going to pop up that you hadn't really thought of; you just have to deal with them calmly and go about things the way we normally do.

"Until you're in the middle of it you've just got to make smart decisions."

Coming out of their final warm-up match, a 92-7 thrashing of Tonga, unscathed, the All Blacks look to be in the best possible position heading into the World Cup. While lock Brodie Retallick will likely remain sidelined until the knockout stages, players nursing niggling injuries such as Richie Mo'unga and Rieko Ioane looked as though they would be available for selection for the opening game.

New Zealand go into the tournament looking to become the first nation to ever win three in a row, with Sam Whitelock, Sonny Bill Williams, and captain Kieran Read all looking to be a part of their third straight World Cup-winning campaign.

Their veteran presence will be an important part of the All Blacks' tournament, with 19 of the 31-man squad heading into their first World Cup.

"Here we go into another tournament where we're trying to win three in a row and people have been reminding us that's quite hard," Foster said. "So some of the mental challenges are the same as in 2015, and we've got a different group of people so we've got to make sure we deal with things in a way that suits this group not the group we had in 2015.


"Now you're not trying to look back at all, and you're not trying to look too far forward, you're just trying to look at the here and now and think let's just go there and settle in."