Still on top

PARIS – New Zealand remain firm favourites to retain the Rugby World Cup title they won on home soil in 2011, a year out from the 20-team tournament in England.

Thursday will mark exactly a year to the day until the first match of rugby union’s showpiece event, which will be staged in the sport’s birthplace from September 18-October 31, 2015.

The All Blacks buried 24 years of hurt by not, for once, choking and deservedly going on to scoop rugby union’s ultimate prize three years ago, although not before a desperately close 8-7 final win over France.

Victorious coach Graham Henry has since passed the reins to assistant Steve Hansen, who has seen fit to hand skipper Richie McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter — ruled out of the 2011 World Cup with a groin injury — sabbaticals to keep his key, albeit ageing, men in prime form for what promises to be a tough finale to their careers in England.

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