Anyone who says New Zealand’s opening game against South Africa will have no bearing on the outcome of the 2019 Rugby World Cup is either ducking reality or being wilfully evasive. Should the All Blacks lose their first pool fixture in World Cup history it will be a major deal, both for the nations concerned and every other tournament contender.
While the All Blacks head coach, Steve Hansen, insists the beaten side can still gallop to glory on the same stretch of turf in Yokohama on 2 November, he knows the importance of World Cup momentum more than most. No previous champions have ever lost first up and still gone on to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup. At World Cups the slow-starting tortoise rarely overhauls the hare.
An armchair guide to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan