REUTERS: New Zealand will be looking for a complete performance to wrap up top spot in Pool C when they take on Tonga in Newcastle in their final Rugby World Cup group match on Friday evening.
The reigning champions have yet to hit top gear in wins over Argentina, Namibia and Georgia, so will be hoping to shake of the last of the rust at St James’ Park, with France or Ireland waiting in the quarter-finals.
Captain Ritchie McCaw is rested because of a sore hip, though Coach Steve Hansen said that the influential flanker would have played had it been a knockout match.
Kieran Read leads the side from number eight in McCaw’s absence, Sam Cane starts at openside flanker and blindside Liam Messam looks set for his first run-out of the tournament from the bench after recovering from a calf injury.
Hansen said he was looking for a “quality, 80-minute performance” from his experienced side – centre Ma’a Nonu will win his 100th cap – but is not concerned that they might reach the quarter-finals undercooked.
“There’s no potential for that,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve worked incredibly hard on the training pitch.”
Tonga’s World Cup dream is not yet over and the Pacific Islanders will be looking to reprise the giant-killing exploits of four years ago, when they stunned France in their final pool match.
To advance, the Tongans must produce an upset that would perhaps upstage even Japan’s win over South Africa earlier in the tournament and then look to Namibia for an equally unlikely victory over Argentina on Sunday.
Tonga Coach Mana Otai has gone with continuity for the match and made only one change to the side that lost to the Pumas, with Latiume Fosita replacing Sione Piukala at inside centre.
“At the end of the day we’ve got to go in attacking,” Captain Nili Latu said.
“We can’t just go in there and let the All Blacks have their way. And that’s the only way we’re going to win the game, if we go in there and attack them.”