All Blacks to play Tonga before World Cup

Daniel Gilhooly

The All Blacks will face Tonga in a home Test just two weeks before their bid to defend the Webb Ellis Cup begins next year.

New Zealand Rugby announced the world champions will play the Ikale Tahi on September 7 in a pre-World Cup hit out in Hamilton.

Both teams will leave for Japan within the two following days, with the All Blacks playing their high-stakes tournament opener against South Africa on September 21. Tonga face England a day later.

The additional Test means the All Blacks will play five international matches in a reduced schedule ahead of the World Cup.

The Rugby Championship is halved to feature one Test each against South Africa, Argentina and Australia.

There is also a second Bledisloe Cup Test, with the meetings against the Wallabies taking place in Perth on August 10 and Auckland a week later.

Tonga Rugby chief executive Fe'ao Vunipola hoped his team would attract the same passionate support from Kiwi-based Tongans as the national rugby league side had over the last year.

"Although this is an All Blacks team playing at home, we would like to think that our supporters will come out in force, and effectively turn it into a home game for Tonga and give us a fantastic send off," he said.