The All Blacks are again the second-best team in the world — apparently — despite scoring a 92-7 win over Tonga in their last hit-out before leaving today in search of a third straight Rugby World Cup triumph.
Steve Hansen's men will arrive in Japan ranked No2 in the world behind Ireland, who beat short-lived former world No1 Wales in their last game before the four-yearly tournament kicks off on September 20.
Most pundits think the rankings will mean nothing once the tournament starts — but three of the past four World Cup winners went in ranked No1. Two of those three were New Zealand (in 2011 and 2015).
Either way, New Zealand are back to their best after an indifferent Rugby Championship. And rivals will be wondering what else they have up their sleeves after newcomers George Bridge and Sevu Reece continued their fine form, Ben Smith returned to his best, Beauden Barrett skipped back into the No10 jersey with relative ease and Ardie Savea was imperious.
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The beauty of the squad of 31 is that they now have many, varied, hands they can play in terms of personnel and you can bet they haven't played all their attacking options either.
"We'd have liked it to have been a little tougher but ... we organised a game so we could get some time as a unit in a match-like situation and we got all that and I thought the boys played particularly well," Hansen said yesterday of the Hamilton match.
Their cup opener is against South Africa on Saturday, September 21.