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All Blacks take on neighbor Tonga in World Cup opener

NEW Zealand will face its tiny South Pacific neighbor Tonga in the opening match of the 2011 World Cup, organizers announced in Wellington yesterday.

The two sides will lock horns in Pool A on the evening of September 9 at Auckland's Eden Park, the venue where the All Blacks beat France in the final of the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

South Africa will begin its World Cup title defense against Wales in Pool D in Wellington two days later while 2003 champion England tackles surprise semifinalist Argentina in Christchurch on September 10 in Pool B in a blockbuster start to the tournament.

Twice World Cup champion Australia starts its Pool C campaign against Italy in Christchurch the following day while France, Ireland and Scotland also play on the first weekend although their opponents are still to be determined.

The top two sides from each of the four five-team pools will advance to the quarterfinals, to be held in Christchurch and Wellington on October 8 and 9. The last four matches, including the third-place playoff, will be held at Eden Park with the semifinals on October 15 and 16, and the final on October 23.

While Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch had already been confirmed to host the playoffs and the majority of the pool matches, another 10 smaller venues were also allocated games.

North Shore, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Dunedin were each given three ties while Whangarei, Nelson, Palmerston North, Napier and Invercargill were awarded two each, taking the tournament to 11 regions in New Zealand.

"Our philosophy all along has been a stadium of four million," the tournament's chief executive Martin Snedden said in a statement.

"We believe today's announcement, building on the knockout decisions announced last year, takes us further towards the fulfillment of that promise.

"(Rugby New Zealand) has worked very closely with Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) over the past few months to bring this to a reality."


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