All Blacks' greatest Cup threat is in the north - Fitzpatrick

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    28 Jan 2018     Getty Images

Speaking to media in Ireland, Fitzpatrick said the All Blacks would be using their November Test matches against Ireland and England as significant pointers to their progress toward Japan next year.

"It will be the last time we play each other before the World Cup in Japan. Psychologically, probably more so for England and Ireland than the All Blacks, it's about putting a stake in the ground," he said.

The All Blacks would be paying close attention to the Six Nations which starts next weekend, he said.

"We're mid-cycle at the moment so teams are trying things. Injuries have played a major part in the development of so many teams over the past 12 to 18 months, especially the All Blacks – they used 55 players last year, which was unheard of.

"As I said to Steve Hansen at the World Rugby awards, not one of those players didn't deserve to be an All Black, so they're doing something right.

"It's the same with Ireland and the same, probably even more so, with England," he said.

Fitzpatrick said over the past 12 months he felt the biggest threat to the All Blacks in Japan would come from the northern hemisphere and the anticipated closeness of the Six Nations would mean New Zealand would be watching.

Both Ireland and England were playing well and developing depth but the All Blacks would still be World Cup favourites and Fitzpatrick was thrilled with the growth of their own depth.

Props Nepo Laulala and Kane Hames were positive developments in the midst of injury concerns while the All Blacks had also benefited from having the British & Irish Lions expose a way they could be beaten, he said.

While New Zealand was having to cope with the loss of players to northern hemisphere clubs, they could counter that with the number of quality players emerging.

"You look at Lima Sopoaga and he's got Beauden Barrett ahead of him and not going anywhere, and Damian McKenzie is being groomed and will start at 10 for the Chiefs this year, so Sopoaga is thinking he might as well move on and make some money.

"There's a lot of depth here. Even losing Tawera Kerr-Barlow, there's TJ Perenara now. That are young players that many people might not have heard as much of. You only have to look at Vaea Fifita, the loose forward who was so good in the Championship.

"The young hooker Asafo Aumua who everyone is raving about, Jack Goodhue from Northland, so many others – there's so much depth there," he said.