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All Blacks coach Hansen plays down England World Cup threat

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New Zealand All Blacks’ head coach Steve Hansen speaks during a press conference after the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019 pool draw, in Kyoto, on May 10, 2017 © AFP / Toshifumi Kitamura

KYOTO, Japan, May 11 – New Zealand coach Steve Hansen warned England they could struggle to get out of a treacherous group for the second straight Rugby World Cup.

Hansen appeared to play down English hopes of knocking the All Blacks off their perch as rugby’s top side, after the 2003 champions drew France and Argentina among their pool rivals in 2019.

“Any one of those top eight teams is going to be tough,” Hansen told reporters after the title-holders were bracketed with South Africa and Italy in Pool B at Wednesday’s draw in Kyoto.

“England are going to be a force, but they’re in a really strong pool. South Africa, Australia and France are improving and by the time the World Cup comes around any number of teams could win the tournament.”

“We know South Africa very well,” added Hansen, looking ahead to New Zealand’s first ever group clash with the Springboks, who memorably beat the All Blacks in an emotional 1995 final.

“It’s going to be one of the games of the tournament.”

The All Blacks will be chasing a hat-trick of World Cup titles in Japan to underline their recent dominance of the sport.

England’s players practice a line-out during a training session at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, west of London, in March 2017 © AFP/File / Adrian Dennis

“It’s going to be interesting,” smiled Hansen. “Everyone is saying that Pool C is the pool of death.

“But England will be like us -– just looking forward to getting here. They’re one of our rivals, along with South Africa, Australia and France.”

On recent form England appear best placed to provide New Zealand’s biggest threat despite their calamitous 2015 World Cup, when they became the first host nation to fail to escape the pool stages.

The English have added steel under coach Eddie Jones, equalling New Zealand’s world-record 18 straight Test wins before Ireland prevented them from completing back-to-back Grand Slams in March.

“History shows that you need to win seven games to win the World Cup,” said Jones.

“To get through to the final we’re going to have to be bulletproof.”

While England face further bruising tests against either the United States or Canada, and Fiji or Samoa, New Zealand should encounter far less resistance before the knockout phase.

The All Blacks could rack up huge scores against the likes of Namibia and potentially Uruguay or Kenya.

“Obviously with heat and humidity it’s something we need to plan for,” said Hansen, identifying one possible cause for concern.

“Will we play any games in Japan between now and then? We will have to wait and see. But it wouldn’t be a silly idea.”

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