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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — As New Zealand attempts the unprecedented feat of winning the Rugby World Cup for the third time in a row, many of the factors that underpinned its winning campaigns in 2011 and 2015 remain in place but much else has changed.
Head coach Steve Hansen will be attending the World Cup for a fifth time: he was Wales head coach in 2003, an assistant to All Blacks coach Graham Henry in 2007 and 2011 and head coach in his own right in 2015.
Hansen brings a thread of experience and continuity to this campaign on which New Zealand will heavily rely. A small group of players including captain Kieran Read will be competing at their third World Cups and a larger group will be taking part in the tournament for the second time, adding to the experience base on which their challenge is founded.
While that gives New Zealand a sense of continuity, they will defend the Webb Ellis Trophy in changing times. Unlike in 2011 and 2015, the All Blacks will not begin this World Cup as the top-ranked team in world rugby: that distinction belongs now to Ireland who in recent weeks superseded Wales as world No.1.
The New Zealanders may remain nominal favorites but the
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