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PARIS: New Zealand will be made to fight all the way for a third consecutive title as a ground-breaking Rugby World Cup gets under way in Japan next week with half a dozen teams confident of jockeying for the William Webb Ellis trophy.
While the bookmakers have the All Blacks as clear favourites, they will not be the number one-ranked team at the Sep 20 to Nov 2 tournament, Ireland having taken that mantle after two warm-up wins over Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales.
But there is no doubt about the strength in depth of Steve Hansen’s New Zealand, a side that features three former World Rugby Players of the Year in skipper Kieran Read, influential lock Brodie Retallick and playmaker Beauden Barrett.
The All Blacks’ win percentage since winning the inaugural 1987 tournament, alongside with those in 2011 and 2015, is a staggering 84 per cent and it will take an outstanding performance to dislodge them from their path to a fourth title in the first World Cup to be held in Asia.
They kick off on Sep 21 with what promises to be a humdinger of a Pool B match against an ever-improving South Africa. The two-time champions are skippered for the first time in a World Cup by a black player, flanker Siya Kolisi.
Italy, Namibia and Canada make up the pool, so that match against the Springboks will very likely d
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