Rugby World Cup: Sean Fitzpatrick says England and Ireland genuine threats to New Zealand
"I just think that England and especially Ireland have got our number in terms of the way we (New Zealand) play the game. They play the game similar to us."
Last Updated: 18/02/19 4:16pm
Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick believes England and Ireland possess the greatest threats to ending the All Blacks' dominance at the World Cup.
New Zealand are favourites to win a third successive William Webb Ellis trophy in Japan later this year but Ireland have beaten them twice in their last three meetings, including a famous win over the Kiwis in Dublin last November.
England suffered a narrow 15-16 defeat a week earlier during the Autumn internationals and Fitzpatrick expects both northern hemisphere sides, along with Warren Gatland's Wales, to be in serious contention.
The 1987 World Cup winner says the fact none of the leading nations boast home advantage will make for a wide open competition.
The All Blacks are the defending champions, they probably are still the team to beat and I say that every World Cup.
Speaking in his role as the chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, Fitzpatrick said: "No disrespect to Japan because they can beat the big boys as we saw in 2015 (when they defeated South Africa) but it's the first neutral World Cup in terms of the home advantage.
"The All Blacks are the defending champions, they probably are still the team to beat and I say that every World Cup.
"I always thought that the major challenge would come from the northern hemisphere and I still think that after what happened in the autumn and what's happening in the Six Nations.
"England have really gone to another level, Ireland have real depth and to win World Cups, you need depth, and Ireland's got that without question and so have England.
"I just think that England and especially Ireland have got our number in terms of the way we play the game. They play the game similar to us.
"You throw those two in there along with Wales, who are on the most unbelievable winning streak at the moment, and then you've got South Africa and you can never write Australia off. It's going to be hugely, hugely competitive."