All Blacks mum about path to RWC final

If the All Blacks wanted to, they could reveal now their likely starting XV and game strategy for every match they could possibly play through to the end of the World Cup.

Such is the meticulous preparation they have put into defending their world crown.

After their final pool game against Tonga on Friday, the All Blacks will play the loser of Sunday’s Pool D showdown between France and Ireland as they head into the sudden death phase of the tournament.

Assistant coach Ian Foster said every eventuality has been taken into account.

“We’ve got a plan with the ability to adapt,” he said on Thursday, on the eve of their final Pool C match, when asked whether the quarter-final side was already pencilled in.

Pressed on whether he could name the side now Foster said: “We’ve got a plan but we’ll take this Tongan game first and foremost.”

“There’s a few things we obviously need to see out of this game going forward and we’ll make that decision on the weekend,” he added.

Not only were the All Blacks not giving their selections away, they also were not tipping who they think the likely finalists are going to be.

If Ireland beat France in their crunch pool match that will leave the All Blacks with a sense of deja vu – playing France in a World Cup quarter-final at Millennium Stadium.

The last time that happened, when the All Blacks had again waltzed through a relatively easy pool, they found themselves ill-prepared to handle a fired up French and were knocked out in that first play-off game.

Backrower Kieran Read, who will lead the All Blacks in place of the injured Richie McCaw against Tonga, said he had no preference between France and Ireland for their first sudden-death encounter.

“We don’t mind. The team you’re going to face in the quarter-finals is potentially a team that could go all the way and win this World Cup,” he said.

“We’ve got to expect to play all the top nations if we want to win this thing and both of those two teams are pretty damn good sides.

“It’s going to be an exciting game when they play, and we’ll play who we have to play and prepare accordingly.”

Foster said the All Blacks would not waste time worrying about the outcome of the Ireland v France match.

“We’re just focusing and worrying about beating Tonga, playing well against them and whatever happens the following week will happen.

“We have spent energy looking at both of them but who we want to play, well we’ll wait and see.”

New Zealand team to play Tonga:

Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Waisake Naholo, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.

Tonga team to play New Zealand:

Vungakoto Lilo, Telusa Veainu, Siale Piutau, Latiume Fosita, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua; Viliami Ma’afu, Nili Latu (capt), Sione Kalamafoni, Joe Tu’ineau, Tukulua Lokotui, Halani ‘Aulika, Elvis Taione, Soane Tonga’uiha.

Reserves: Paula Ngauamo, Sona Taumalolo, Sila Puafisi, Sitiveni Mafi, Jack Ram, Samisoni Fisilau, Viliami Tahitua, Will Helu.

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