We take a look at Pool B of the Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan starting this Friday.
Powerhouses New Zealand and South Africa are the odds on favourites to advance to the knockout stages from Pool B.
With five world titles between them, the southern hemisphere rivals the other contenders including the Italians are not expected to pose much of a threat to the two heavyweights.
Despite the fact the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had dropped front-row veteran Owen Franks from the side, they are still favoured to lift the coveted trophy for the third consecutive time.
Franks featured in both the previous two World Cup victories, the Kiwis still boasts of a strong mix of experienced and emerging talents.
While they have yet to reproduce the same intensity as the previous years in the run-up to the World Cup, the All Blacks still have numerous match winners in their side.
Their third place finish at the recent Rugby Championships should not be a gauge of their
Much would depend also on the versatile Ardie Savea, who was easily their best player in recent matches. His partnership with his captain Kieran Read and Sam Kane in the back row would be pivotal in their success.
They would also looking to Richie Mo’unga reprising his role as the chief play maker, just as he did during the Rugby Championships. A relative newcomer to the team, having only 12 caps to his name, the fly-half has already established himself as an indispensable cog in the team.
The Kiwis would also be boosted by their two-time World Rubgy Player of the Year Beauden Barret at the back.
South Africa, the reigning Rugby Championships winners, are buoyed by the victory and would be looking to upstage their bitter rivals.
Like the Kiwis, the Springboks also boast of a balanced side with equal strength on the bench.
Their key player is most certainly fly-half Handre Pollard, whose no holds barred attacking style was instrumental in their Rugby Championships triumph.
The two rugby giants meet as early as the second day of the tournament and would be gunning for nothing else than a win, even by the smallest margin.
The Pool winners would avoid current world number one Ireland, who are expected to top Pool A.
Neither team would cherish taking on the Irish as early as the quarter-finals.
Both New Zealand and South Africa fought out a nail biting 16-16 draw when they last met in Wellington earlier this year. They played each other twice last year, winning one match apiece.
Italy are a competitive side but not at par with the two top teams. At best the Azzurri’s are expected to finish ahead of Canada and Namibia in the Pool.
Canada only made it to the World Cup after a beating Hong Kong in the repechage tournament in France earlier this year. As for Namibia they qualified on the merit of winning the Rugby Africa Gold Cup last year.
Since their debut in 1999, Namibia had lost all their 19 matches in the series and would be looking to buck the trend this year.