Ireland, twice winners over New Zealand in recent times (in 2016 and 2018), headline Pool A which also includes Six Nations rivals Scotland, hosts Japan, and Russia and Samoa.
There is no doubt that Ireland’s Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt, whose pedigree includes a Top 14 title with French club Clermont, two European Cups with Leinster and back-to-back Six Nations titles with Ireland in 2014 and 2015, has girded a solid team capable of dreaming of going beyond the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Home fans meanwhile will be hoping that Japan can recreate their famous 34-32 win over South Africa in the 2015 World Cup, the biggest upset in the sport at elite level.
The “Brave Blossoms” also notched up pool victories over Samoa and USA four years ago, becoming the first team to win three group matches and not progress to the quarter-finals.
Coach Jamie Joseph has targeted a first-ever place in the quarter-finals, but to achieve that Japan will likely have to topple Scotland when the two sides meet.
It was Scotland who made it out of their 2015 pool along with the Springboks at Japan’s expense, beating the Brave Blossoms 45-10. The 2019 hosts therefore have a score to settle on their own turf, so a fierce tussle is expected.
Samoa, too, cannot be written off. They ran Australia relatively close in a World Cup warmup match, eventually succumbing 34-15.
Russia are the outsiders in this pool and the Bears are entering only their second World Cup having lost all four matches in 2015.
Teams: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Russia and Samoa.
Rugby World Cup: Pool A Standings
Rugby World Cup: Pool A Fixtures