The reigning world champions, New Zealand once again head to the World Cup as favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
As three-time winners, having first tasted glory in the inaugural 1987 edition, the All Blacks‘ success at the tournament is unparalleled.
However, it’s hardly been plain-sailing for Kieran Read and his men ahead of Japan 2019. The side were held to a 16-16 draw by South Africa in July before going on to suffer a humbling 47-26 defeat at the hands of rivals Australia.
Although the All Blacks avenged that loss with a 36-0 over the Wallabies in the return fixture, there’s a sense that the team’s aura of invincibility has been punctured.
Still, with an abundance of world-class talent at Steve Hansen‘s disposal, it’s hard to look past New Zealand as the team to beat at this year’s tournament.
They’ve been drawn in Pool B alongside South Africa, Italy, Namibia and Canada.
Backs: Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber.
Forwards: Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Atu Moli, Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman.
Steve Hansen: The former head coach of Wales, Hansen has been in charge of the All Blacks since 2012. He’s targetting a second World Cup title with the side.
Beauden Barrett: Whether deployed at fly-half or full-back, Beauden Barrett remains New Zealand’s most prized asset heading into the World Cup. His versatility across the backline will add an extra dimension to the All Blacks but it’s his unique range of skills which make him truly deadly: quick, a sublime distributor and kicker, a superb tackler and an unmatched reader of the game, there’s a good reason Barrett has twice been named World Rugby Player of the Year.
Beauden Barrett in action for the All Blacks (Getty)
Champions at the 1987, 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
The standard is high among their rivals but, assuming they can avoid upset against South Africa in their opening group game, and in doing so set the tone for the rest of their tournament, New Zealand are my bet to emerge victorious at this year’s World Cup.
New Zealand to win the World Cup: 5/4