So the warm-up games are over and have been dissected, there’s still ten sleeps to kick off, we’re all beside ourselves with excitement and everyone has already gone through their likely outcomes.
How to kill time until September 20? My solution is to list the top five potential unlikely outcomes, backed up with some sort of rationale.
To be clear, these are not predictions – you just have to pick the five most likely upsets. So here goes.
The assumption is that they’ll follow the examples of Wales in 1991 and England in 2015 and go out at the group stage as the host nation, but I wonder.
I saw them at Twickenham last summer and they were excellent, leading at half time. England were poor until Owen Farrell came on and sorted things out, but this was partially because Japan played so well – committed, skilful and with a high tempo.
They’ve also dominated the Pacific Nations Cup this year and I could see them beating Scotland and even frightening Ireland, particularly if the Irish line out doesn’t function, as has been the case recently.
2. South Africa beat NZ
OK, not particularly original and those more knowledgeable than me can no doubt give better reasons, but if the Springboks pack can beat up the All Blacks’ eight, Faf de Klerk – who I expect to be one of the stars of the competition – plays a blinder, Handre Pollard controls the game and S’busiso Nkosi can sneak in at the corner, it could happen.
3. France reach the semi-final
Based on results over past four years, this looks highly unlikely, but there have been glimpses of what the team could achieve if they had better coaching and the national team were given greater influence over the clubs.
They have some exciting young backs such as Damian Penaud and Antoine Dupont, and their forwards are tough. If they can beat Argentina – which is likely – and be competitive against England – who will have too much firepower – they could easily surprise either Australia or Wales.
4. Australia reach the final
They have to beat Wales – England’s power, line out, kicking game and bench are probably too much for the Wallabies.
If so, they can certainly beat the French, but the All Blacks have the breadth of skills and the intelligence to work out where the Australian limitations are, so it also requires a semi-final against the Springboks or Ireland.
5. An all northern hemisphere final
Again, this requires the All Blacks to top their group as England are the only team other than the Springboks that can beat them.
Ireland 2019, even with Robbie Henshaw back and Johnny Sexton restored, are not the same as Ireland 2018, particularly with Rory Best’s poor throwing and no Devin Toner to give good line-out ball.
And Wales don’t have the backs – Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams aside – to open up the All Blacks nor the front five – Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens aside – to take them apart.
A quarter-final grouping containing France, Wales and Ireland, however, could certainly contain the capacity to take out the Springboks, either there or in the semi-final.