Ben Ryan: Springboks have the tools to put a dent in All Blacks' unbeaten pool record at Rugby World Cups
New Zealand have never lost a pool match in eight previous World Cup editions
New Zealand have not lost a single group game in the history of the Rugby World Cup.
Back-to-back world champions, and until very recently they sat atop the world rankings unchecked for a decade.
Steve Hansen, their head coach, has presided over both their recent World Cup wins. And, back in Aotearoa, the Crusaders have dominated Super Rugby.
So all signs point to the All Blacks claiming a third straight Webb Ellis Cup, right? Well, maybe, but not without some serious snakes amongst their ladders.
They play the reimagined and buoyant South Africa in their opening group game, and I think they will lose.
Why? South Africa just won the 2019 edition of The Rugby Championship, their first triumph in the competition since 2009, when it was still the Tri-Nations.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, playing in South Africa’s back row, made the most tackles (36) of any player in The Rugby Championship, and he also made the most clean breaks (5) of any forward.
They have probably the most in-form half-backs in the shape of Sale Sharks No 9 Faf de Klerk and Montpellier fly-half Handre Pollard.
Two sevens favourites in Kwagga Smith and Cheslin Kolbe are also on the roster and provide serious X Factor.
The Springboks’ defence is also back. Full of teeth and aggression off the line. Everyone - and I mean everyone - is offside anyway these days, but that is only going to play more into the hands of the 1995 and 2007 world champions.
They have a mammoth pack that keeps the ball and an attack that is direct and uncompromising. They also have an indomitable captain in Siya Kolisi, who leads right from the front.
Their last warm up game was in Japan against a home side that may do even better than their 2015 heroics, and yet Rassie Erasmus’s side dominated them in every facet.
The team then stayed in Japan, in the southern part of the island, which was much hotter and more humid, and great preparation for what lies ahead.
New Zealand came in later, and stayed higher after a one-sided affair that did not test them in any way against Tonga. Brodie Rettalick, their talisman in the forwards, will be missing till the knockouts and they just look marginally undercooked for the opening salvo against the Boks.
I can see these two in the final but for me, this all adds up to South Africa sticking a large crack in that unbeaten pool record that New Zealand so proudly hold.
It will give New Zealand a bracing shake, but I still think they will go though and win the final.
You see, they know it is about winning three games in a row from the quarter finals. They back their squad to do what is needed to get to there, and from that point, they have the ammunition and know-how that no one else quite has.
They have their smattering of former sevens players, all big hitters, too. Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Ardie Savea, Rieko Ioane have all run out for the New Zealand Sevens team in days gone by.
England have been resplendent in the warm ups and shown they are serious contenders. They have more ball carriers than probably anyone else, but they will need luck of keeping everyone fit, especially Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola.
With Ireland and Wales having each topped the world rankings recently, France showing they could just confound everyone with glimpses of their old élan, and an Australian side that have the potential to beat anyone, it all comes together to rightfully be claimed that this is the most open tournament since its creation.
Saying all that, I still fancy the team from the Land of the Long White Cloud to do it again. But only just.
Ben Ryan coached Fiji to Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, and won the Dubai Rugby Sevens four times - twice with England, and twice with Fiji
Updated: September 20, 2019 11:40 AM