All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is happy to wear the favourites tag for the World Cup despite mixed results this season.
Like many of the teams preparing for the World Cup, the All Blacks have struggled for consistency. But Hansen says that's par for the course.
In Hamilton, Hansen arrived for the first day of what he hopes will be a nine-week journey to World Cup success and he knows what is expected of his team.
"Doesn't worry me," said Hansen. "You'd rather be favourites than not favourites.
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But after a draw against South Africa, the record loss to the Wallabies in Perth, then the sudden turnaround with their huge win in the rematch in Auckland, it's hard to know exactly how they're tracking.
Teams like Ireland are in a similar boat, after being copping 50 points against England then beating Six Nations Champions Wales.
"You're going to see lots of form dips and things that don't seem normal because it is not a normal year."
Hansen won't be pushed on who he thinks is looking the biggest threat outside of his own team.
"I'm not allowed to bet and I'm not allowed to give advice," responded Hansen when pushed on who he believes should be favourite.
"You're watching the same games as me. I'm happy where we are at and that is all. That is all I am worried about because that is all I can control."
With all of that in mind, Saturday's game against Tonga in Hamilton offers Hansen one thing above all else.
"First and foremost, we want to get game time into a large proportion of the squad. Too much of a gap otherwise between the last game and the first game of the World Cup."
Meanwhile, Highlanders first-five Josh Ioane has been called into the squad as additional first-five cover.
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