Video report by ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott
Unlike most previous Rugby World Cups, the 2019 Japan version has many experts disagreeing about who are likely to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy at the end of it.
That is because the perennial front runners and current World Champions New Zealand are looking unusually vulnerable at the moment, although they are probably still the ones to beat.
In fact Ireland are currently the top ranked team in the world but it is generally accepted that particular status flatters them. Ireland 2018 maybe, but not now. That’s not to say they can’t win this tournament, they can, along with a handful of other teams. The usual suspects.
We’ll get a better idea of where Ireland are after their mouth-watering opener against Scotland. The Scots may see this is a rare chance to upset the rankings.
Both teams will be wary of their match against the host nation Japan later on in the pool stages. For Scotland it may well dictate whether they make the knock-out phase.
The biggest showdown in the pool stages happens this weekend when many people’s favourites South Africa meet the All Blacks. What’s fascinating about this one is whoever loses still can’t be counted out. It’s never been done before, a team losing in the pool stages and then winning the tournament, but it could happen in Japan with one of these two rugby giants.
There is a lot of money riding on the Springboks. Their head coach Rassie Erasmus has turned the team around in quick time, so much so they won the recent southern hemisphere’s Championship and were unbeaten throughout. In that tournament Australia comfortably beat the All Blacks, evidence perhaps of how wide-open Japan 2019 might be.
Of the Home Nations, England are marginally best equipped to go the furthest, largely because they have the greatest strength in depth. There’s a brutal six weeks ahead and inevitably there will be injuries which is where England’s quality through their entire squad comes into play.
However, if Wales by some miracle can keep their first-choice team on the pitch for the entire tournament then they have as good a chance as any of the Six Nations rivals. Although what will revealing is how they cope initially with the Rob Howley betting scandal. Will the understandable bunker mentality that’s followed it, impact on how they perform?
One-off games can be won by a moment of genius, tournaments are very different, success requires a full squad operating to its potential throughout. And, of course, you always have to throw in the shock result. At every tournament one of the lower ranked teams always seems to manage an upset. In the first round of matches most are drawn to Fiji against Australia for the potential of that.
Only a fool would bet his or her house on this one; it’s set to be one of the most unpredictable World Cup’s we’ve ever seen.