Rugby World Cup: All Blacks great Joe Rokocoko issues rallying cry to Kiwi fans on eve of tournament opener

Former All Blacks winger Joe Rokococo is urging Kiwi fans to get in behind Ian Foster's side before what he thinks will be the most hotly contested Rugby World Cup in history kicks off.

In arguably the most mouth-watering opening match-up in World Cup history, the All Blacks and hosts France will kick off the tournament on Saturday morning (NZ time), with both teams able to hold a contender's tag.  

As hosts, and ranked third in the world, France are among the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup come the end of November, while the All Blacks are gunning for an unprecedented fourth title of their own.  

But since succeeding Sir Steve Hansen in 2020, coach Foster hasn't had things his own way – by any means.

Joe Rokocoko lifts the Bledisloe Cup (2003)
Joe Rokocoko lifts the Bledisloe Cup (2003) Photo credit: Photosport

Struggling more than most through the COVID-19 pandemic, Foster came within one defeat of losing his job last year.  

Since then, though, the All Blacks have at times looked like they were back to their best.  

Foster's men swept the Rugby Championship and retained the Bledisloe Cup as part of a 12-test unbeaten run before losing to South Africa two weeks ago.   

And while the All Blacks have been open about their struggles, the rest of the world has also caught up.  

Foster's men arrived in France ranked fourth in the world and are on the same side of the draw as world No.1 Ireland, and reigning champions South Africa.  

Up first, though, are France.  

No All Blacks side has ever lost a pool match at a World Cup but face that very prospect on Saturday morning.  

And while Rokocoko, who played 68 tests, concedes this World Cup will be the most evenly contested, the All Blacks' having to settle for an underdog tag is beneficial for Foster's men.  

"The All Blacks haven't been at the level we want them to be," Rokocoko told Newshub.  

"But you've got to hand it to these other teams, they've gone up a level.

Ian Foster and Sam Cane.
Ian Foster and Sam Cane. Photo credit: Getty Images

"The margin is really close now. In terms of test matches every week, these teams are at that high level where you can't afford [to make] any errors.  

"I'm trusting the ABs have had a good preparation, despite the game at Twickenham. The All Blacks always have that standard and expectations of themselves before the public.  

"They're pretty much under the radar, which is cool for them as well."  

Public sentiment towards the All Blacks in recent years has dipped slightly, with poor results seeing Kiwis look elsewhere for sporting validation.  

But Rokocoko is calling on New Zealanders to put aside the lows of the past four years and get in behind the All Blacks as they bid for title No.4.  

"That's the challenge we've had throughout the years. They are capable, they have the right stuff, they have the right sort of players and leaders to do the job.  

"All you want is for the nation to support and get behind these boys. They're trying to better themselves, the unseen work, it doesn't get noticed.  

"I'd encourage everyone back at home to get behind the boys and hope this World Cup will be a great success."  

This year's World Cup will without question be the most tightly contested tournament in its history.  

On one side of the draw, the All Blacks, France, South Africa and Ireland all loom as contenders – albeit with only two able to reach the semi-finals.  

Meanwhile, on the other side, the likes of England, Australia, Argentina and Wales have a much simpler task in earning their place in the last four.  

What's more, World Rugby's altered eligibility rules have opened the door for the Pacific nations, seeing Fiji, Samoa and Tonga also able to challenge the previously untouchable elite.

That competition should see fans thrilled regardless of who lifts the trophy in Paris at the end of October.  

"This is a World Cup where you don't actually know who's going to come out of the pools," Rokocoko added. "It's unheard of.  

"Normally you can predict who's going to be in the semis, quarter-finals and so forth. Everyone's just excited.  

"In terms of results over the past few weeks, everyone's expecting this World Cup to be the best World Cup."  

Join Newshub for live updates of the Rugby World Cup opener between the All Blacks and France from 6:30am Saturday.