New Zealand v South Africa: Vulnerable All Blacks could struggle against Springboks

New Zealand captain Kieran Read
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Simon Mail previews the first heavyweight clash of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday as well as looking at Australia's and France's first games...

"Significantly for South Africa, their recent record against New Zealand is positive and suggests they will have no fears in facing them. The Springboks stunned the All Blacks in a breathtaking 36-34 win in Wellington last year before being edged out 32-30 at home."

New Zealand v South Africa
Saturday, 10:45
Live on ITV

All Blacks chasing record third successive triumph

It does not get bigger than this on the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup as defending champions New Zealand collide with South Africa. The All Blacks are going for a third successive triumph and Steve Hansen's side are favourites although the current team does not have the aura of invincibility of the previous champions.

New Zealand were well beaten by Australia last month and could only finish third in this summer's Rugby Championship. Hansen does not appear to have a completely settled side and has selected the youngest team since the 2011 World Cup final. He has opted to play Beauden Barrett at full-back with Richie Mo'unga starting at fly-half.

Springboks looking strong contenders again

South Africa come into the tournament with real momentum after an unbeaten run stretching back to November. Rassie Erasmus guided the Springboks to first place in the Rugby Championship and has moulded a team fancied to contend for the Webb Ellis Cup. With exceptional forward strength led by captain Siya Kolisi and outstanding individuals in the backline such as fly-half Handre Pollard and wing Cheslin Kolbe, there are no obvious weaknesses in their team.


Significantly for South Africa, their recent record against New Zealand is positive and suggests they will have no fears in facing them. The Springboks stunned the All Blacks in a breathtaking 36-34 win in Wellington last year before being edged out 32-30 at home. Their most recent meeting in July resulted in a 16-16 draw in New Zealand.

South Africa are outsiders for this match but there has been nothing between the teams in their recent clashes. The most appealing bet is to back to Erasmus' side with a six-point handicap. South Africa will be a huge test for the champions and the last four matches between the teams have been settled by no more than two points.

Australia v Fiji
Saturday, 05:45
Live on ITV

Wallabies with plenty to prove

Australia reached the World Cup final four years ago but Michael Cheika's side have struggled for consistency over the last couple of years and come into the tournament relatively unfancied. The Wallabies still have plenty of world class players though and David Pocock has returned to fitness to join captain Michael Hooper in the back row for this opener in Sapparo.

Fiji are hoping to reach the quarter-finals for the third time and there are enough talented players in their team to cause problems for pool rivals Australia and Wales. John McKee has selected Semi Radrada on the wing and Leone Nakarawa is recognised as one of the best locks in the game. With five wins in their last six matches, Fiji should come into the competition with confidence.


Regardless of Australia's current form, the Wallabies always deliver in the pool stage with a 93 per cent win record at this phase of the World Cup. Australia have won their last 14 matches against Fiji which includes a 28-13 win in this competition four years ago. Cheika's side can come out firing and make a fast start, with the favourites backed to cover a seven-point first-half handicap on their way to an opening win.


France v Argentina
Saturday, 08:15
Live on ITV

Unpredictable France face tough opener

Two of England's pool opponents, France and Argentina, get their campaign underway in an intriguing opener in Tokyo. France are notoriously unpredictable although they have twice reached the final and could surprise a few in Japan. Toulouse duo Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont have been picked as the half-back partnership with plenty of individual flair in this young team.

Argentina reached the semi-finals four years ago and the Pumas are renowned as dangerous opponents. But their build-up to the tournament has been poor with nine successive Test defeats dampening optimism in their chances. Argentina will again place their faith in Nicolas Sanchez with the fly-half finishing as the top points scorer in the 2015 World Cup.

France have won their last two games against Argentina and four of the last six encounters. The Pumas come into the World Cup with plenty of doubts about their current form and it is surprising to see the betting so close. France have more match winners in their team and look better equipped to make a winning start so backing them to cover a two-point handicap stands out.


Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

Check out our Rugby World Cup podcast, with the Pod Nations Predict panel previewing the tournament and picking out the best bets

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