By the time you read this, you may well know the outcome of this morning’s RWC opener between the hosts France and the All Blacks at Stade de France.
That will, with a high probability, determine who will finish first and second in Group A.
That’s unless Italy cause the biggest of all upsets and tip over the All Blacks, who they have never beaten, or France, who they have beaten three times in 47 clashes, the last time in 2013.
Uruguay and Namibia will be cannon fodder for the big two. Their battle in the early hours of Thursday, September 28, could be their tournament highlight, but don’t be surprised if both give Italy a fright.
Whoever tops the group will have little bearing on what happens later in the tournament, and several pundits and the bookies are favouring France and New Zealand to meet in the decider.
Before then, there is the little matter of negotiating quarterfinals against the top two teams from Group B, a pool that features three of the top five world-ranked sides Ireland, South Africa and Scotland, the bruising Tongans, and Romania, who have almost certainly been handed the worst draw any minnow could hope for.
Although some pundits believe the tough nature of the ‘pool of death’ will hold teams in good stead for the knockout phases, interestingly, few scribes have touched on how the demands could impact negatively in the latter stages.
The clashes between the Irish, Scots, and Springboks will be tough, no-holds-barred encounters, as well as their battles with the rejuvenated Tongans.
The players from the smallest country at the RWC, boosted by a handful of former All Blacks, are not noted for taking a backward step. Look for them to give some of the big boys a good shake.
South Africa and Ireland should progress, but keep an eye on Scotland.
Group C is intriguing with woeful Wales, awful Australia, flying Fiji, Georgia, and Portugal. Discard the latter, but otherwise, it is a pool with numerous possibilities.
The Wallabies, despite their winless record in 2023, will start favourites and never discount a team coached by Eddie Jones – he knows how to get teams up for these big tournaments, and he is the ultimate at foxing.
But is this the RWC where the flying Fijians finally convert their sevens supremacy into the XV’s and become the fabulous Fijians? Let’s hope so because there is no better sight in rugby than a Fijian team in full flight. Their game against Wales at 7am Monday is a must-watch.
Group D looks likely to be fought out by England and Argentina, although, like Tonga, Samoa are boosted by several former All Blacks, and their physical approach will batter and bruise opponents, but I doubt they have the depth to threaten.
Japan, under the astute coaching of Jamie Joseph, are capable of upsetting the big two, while Chile, in their first RWC, are there for the ride.
A group with the potential for big surprises!
Predictions – the bookies don’t often get it wrong, and France and All Blacks to meet in the final is a good bet, but can we lift the Webb Ellis for the fourth time, and are we good enough?
The flying Fijians to go deep into the playoffs, and for there to be an upset ala Japan over Springboks in 2015.
My biggest fears – the blokes with the whistle and in front of the screens and their microscopic examination of the smallest incident, so get ready for some long drawn out games.
Buckle in; it’s going to be a bumpy ride!