Let’s be clear about this: what will be, will be.
Any of these eight teams can win on the day. A favourite can lose the plot, an underdog can find a once in a lifetime performance.
But a pundit, a fan, has an obligation before the fact to lay out their thinking. So here’s mine.
There are two big factors to consider: the quality of the players, and the quality of the coaches. Add those together – rather multiple them – and you get the odds. The odds, not the certainties.
A bit of explanation is needed for some of those scores.
Wales score low on players because of their shocking long list of injuries. Same for Ireland, who lose some key players to injury (and the judiciary) at exactly the worst time. But in Gatland and Schmidt respectively, they have two of the smartest minds in the game.
South Africa’s squad has too many great players just past their best. The youngsters are fragile. And Heyneke Meyer is not of the quality of, say, Jake White in his pomp.
Argentina is honest but predictable.
Scotland is honest but shallow. Vern Cotter has done wonders with a small talent base, but that only takes you so far.
Australia has, on balance, the best total squad coming to its peak at the right time. Folau, Giteau, Ashley-Cooper and Pocock are probably the best in the world in their positions at the moment. Genia is below his best but still canny, while Foley has grown into poise this year. The tight five are a solid unit, without being absolutely dominant. Hooper can be a game breaker, but has flawed discipline. The bench (or the “finishers” as Cheika calls them) have made impact. Cheika has instilled belief, but I still think he’s too narrow with an emphasis on physicality which can lead some players to cross the line and bleed yellow cards.
France is France. They were out-thought and out-played by Ireland. But they hung in grimly to the 70th minute, so they have on-field character. And they’re France: they always have one great game per Cup. We haven’t seen it yet.
The All Blacks? Time to show what’s up Shag’s sleeve.
Which reminds me of an old joke.
Q: Where do the Irish keep their armies?
A: Up their sleevies.
Yes, anxious times require desperate distraction. Anything, anything at all, to keep it together to Sunday morning.