TOKYO, 18 Sep - All eight editions of the Rugby World Cup have featured one contest in the opening round of matches to savour, a collision designed to give the tournament a spectacular lift-off.
RWC 2019 in Japan will now try to take that fond tradition to new heights as the first weekend of competition pits the three-time champions and holders New Zealand against double winners South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday. It is the first pool match featuring the game's most storied rivals.
Yet how will it measure up against the impact of the opening salvoes of previous tournaments? And can it top the story that truly launched RWC 2015?
1987 (Sydney) Australia 19 England 6
The inaugural World Cup may have started with the eventual winners New Zealand romping to a 70-6 demolition of Italy at Eden Park, but it was the following day across the Tasman Sea when the impact of the new global event was to be really felt. At the compact Concord Oval, co-hosts Australia defeated England, thanks in large part to a David Campese try that, even now, his old English sparring partner Brian Moore reckons he never touched down. It was not the last time 'Campo' was to torment the old enemy at a World Cup.
1991 (Twickenham) England 12 New Zealand 18
The All Blacks proved early party poopers in the opening match, bullying their distinctly nervous hosts with the boot of Grant Fox and with their great flanker Michael Jones going over for the decisive first try of the tournament, just as he had in 1987.
1995 (Cape Town) South Africa 27 Australia 18
What a way to start one of the great sports stories ever told, with the hosts surprisingly beating the world champions at Newlands. Joel Stransky won the battle of the 10s against the marvellous Michael Lynagh by racking up a full house of points - a try, a conversion, a drop goal and four penalties. Little could anyone imagine then that his boot would go on to deliver something even more special, the drop that won the Mandela final.
1999 (Cardiff) Wales 23 Argentina 18
In the first World Cup of the professional era, Graham Henry's Wales dominated but still laboured against stubborn and spirited opposition who, after conceding tries to Colin Charvis and Mark Taylor, reduced a comfortable 14-point lead to just five through Gonzalo Quesada's goal kicking. It all left the stirred Millennium Stadium crowd feeling just a bit shaken too.
2003 (Sydney) Australia 24 Argentina 8
A record World Cup crowd of 81,350 turned out on a chilly night in the Olympic Stadium to watch what turned out to be perhaps the least engaging of the opening matches, a fairly humdrum affair enlivened by a couple of tries from wingers Wendell Sailor and Joe Roff.
2007 (Paris) France 12 Argentina 17
This time, as Argentina played in the opening match for the third tournament running, the Pumas bared their claws to cause one of the biggest World Cup upsets. They defeated the hosts, who had never lost a pool match before, at the Stade de France and, top, celebrated in style. Les Bleus had a nightmare first half, with Pumas' full-back Ignacio Corleto scoring an interception try, and then ran into a sky blue-and-white wall near the end. Even worse for the home side, the Pumas repeated the dose in the bronze final.
2011 (Wellington) South Africa 17 Wales 16
The most compelling tussle on the opening Sunday of New Zealand's festival witnessed Welsh agony, as they fell just short of upending the Springboks for only the second time in 105 years of trying. Wales missed a kickable penalty and a straightforward drop goal later on.
2015 (Brighton) South Africa 32 Japan 34
Well, where on earth did this one, above, come from? The opening weekend’s big match was supposed to be New Zealand’s arm-wrestle with Argentina at Wembley. Instead, on the day before at a rather less imposing football stadium in an English seaside resort, Japan’s Cherry Blossoms pulled off what was surely the most stunning upset in rugby annals, with winger Karne Hesketh’s injury-time sliding winner being the stuff of celluloid legend. The message for New Zealand and South Africa, then, is straightforward - follow "The Brighton Miracle"!
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