Real World Cup opener will be on day two

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That was how The Guardian summed up the third game of the tournament.

 

Writer Paul Rees said it would be 'a meeting of the two most successful sides in international rugby who have won five of the eight World Cups'.

 

"It is a repeat of the 1995 final, played in the month of the death of Chester Williams, the only non-white player in the Springboks' squad that autumn and one of three wings that afternoon who has since died of a heart attack – Jonah Lomu and James Small being the others – and the 2015 semifinal, matches that were decided by one score," he said.

 

Rees said it wasn't that long ago that South Africa had been a rabble.

 

"They lost to Italy in 2016 but more than half of the 23 who were involved that day will be in Japan. They had conceded 98 points in two Rugby Championship matches and the following year lost 57-0 to the All Blacks in Albany: 14 of that 23 will be at the World Cup.

 

"They lost 38-3 to Ireland, looking shambolic and rudderless. It was when the Munster coach Rassie Erasmus returned home at the end of the year, initially in an overlord capacity only to find himself soon running the national side, that the precipitous decline of the previous two years was first arrested and then put into reverse."

 

Since then their last three games with the All Blacks had seen a win apiece and a draw, the margins never being more than two points.

 

"Erasmus has brought in some new backs and ended the cap threshold a player must have reached to be eligible for selection if he is based abroad, but he has largely used players he inherited, restoring self-belief and pride in a jersey that was looking moth-eaten," Rees said.

 

"The Yokohama showdown with New Zealand threatens to be one of the matches of the tournament, a throwback to the days when little separated the countries, and a potential preview of the final. Whoever wins will almost certainly top the group with Italy, Canada and Namibia to come, although that could leave both sides going into the quarterfinals underexposed.

 

"South Africa and Ireland have, since the last World Cup, found a way of defeating New Zealand and, if the All Blacks lose the opener, they would, if form prevails, meet Ireland in the last eight.

 

"The World Cup winners in 2011 and 2015, who have not lost a match in the tournament since France in Cardiff 12 years ago, are seen as vulnerable, their 10-year hold on the top of the world rankings ending this summer," he said.

 

However, Rees added that it had rarely paid to write off the All Blacks. They had spent the year planning for this game.

 

"They have been adept down the years at ironing out wrinkles and turning weakness into strength," he said.

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