In exactly two years' time, the wait for Rugby World Cup 2023 will be over when France take on New Zealand in an opening match that has all the ingredients to be a classic.
And to mark the milestone on Wednesday 8 September, a special show will be broadcast live from Paris on Rugby World Cup France 2023 social media channels.
While Les Bleus' encounter with the three-time champions should get the tournament off to the best possible start, it is not the only match in the schedule that has caught our eye, even with seven of the 20 slots still to be filled by teams going through the ongoing qualification process.
We select seven pool stage fixtures that could have a huge impact on how the tournament unfolds.
France v New Zealand, Pool A, 8 September, Stade de France
Rugby World Cup 2023 will kick off in style with the hosts taking on the All Blacks in the opening match at the Stade de France. The two teams have a wealth of shared tournament experience having met seven times at Rugby World Cup to date.
The teams’ first meeting came in the RWC 1987 final at Eden Park, which New Zealand won 29-9, while the two countries returned to the famous stadium for the showpiece match of RWC 2011, with the All Blacks again emerging victorious, 8-7. But, arguably the most thrilling match between the teams came in the RWC 1999 semi-finals, when Les Bleus overturned a 24-10 deficit to win 43-31 at Twickenham.
The opening match of RWC 2023 will only be the second time the two teams have met during the pool stage. And, with games against Italy and the Americas 1 and Africa 1 qualifiers to come, this fixture will have a huge bearing on who tops Pool A.
England v Argentina, Pool D, 9 September, Stade Vélodrome
RWC 2019 finalists England will make their entrance into France 2023 against Argentina in Marseille, on a blockbuster second day of the tournament. Los Pumas failed to make the quarter-finals for the first time in 16 years in Japan, and Mario Ladesma’s team will be keen to show that was only a hiccup.
Only two of Argentina, England and Japan will be able to progress to the last eight, however, placing huge significance on the fixtures between those three teams. Whoever wins this meeting in the south of France will take a large stride towards qualification for the knockout stage.
England and Argentina have met three times to date at Rugby World Cup, with the former winning on each occasion. The sides’ most recent meeting came in Pool C of RWC 2019, with Eddie Jones’ side beating Los Pumas 39-10 at Tokyo Stadium.
England v Japan, Pool D, 17 September, Stade de Nice
England’s second Pool D match, and one coach Eddie Jones will no doubt have circled on their schedule, is against Japan in Nice. Jones led the Brave Blossoms to three wins at RWC 2015, including the ‘Brighton Miracle’ against South Africa, and helped turn the team into a force on the international stage.
That progress has continued under his successor Jamie Joseph, and Japan will be confident they have enough quality to make it out of their pool for the second successive Rugby World Cup. Should England beat Argentina in their France 2023 opener, however, Jones’ side will have an opportunity to all but seal their progress, with matches against Samoa and Americas 2 qualifiers to follow this one.
The nations have met only once at Rugby World Cup, their encounter coming during the pool stage of the inaugural tournament in 1987, when England won 60-7 in Sydney. Their only encounter since then came at Twickenham in 2018 and the hosts were victorious again, overcoming a 15-10 half-time deficit to win 35-15.
South Africa v Ireland, Pool B, 23 September, Stade de France
Defending champions South Africa open their RWC 2023 campaign against Scotland on the opening weekend, and whatever the result in Marseille there will be a lot riding on the Springboks’ date with Ireland 13 days later. All three teams will have ambitions extending beyond the pool stage, placing extra importance on the matches between them.
This match at Stade de France will be something of a step into the unknown for both teams as Ireland have never faced South Africa at Rugby World Cup. The Springboks hold the upper hand in the fixture, having won 18 of the 26 tests contested by the sides.
Another victory on the outskirts of Paris could give them the upper hand in the battle to top Pool B. Ireland, meanwhile, will know that their RWC 2023 destiny should still be in their hands regardless of the result against South Africa, given they are due to play Scotland on the final weekend of the pool stage.
Wales v Australia, Pool C, 24 September, Parc OL
Lyon will play host to what has become one of the most common Rugby World Cup fixtures in recent times on the third Sunday of the tournament. Wales and Australia have been drawn in the same pool at four of the last five Rugby World Cups, including France 2023, and faced each other in the bronze final of New Zealand 2011 too.
Australia beat Wales in Cardiff in 2007 and at Twickenham in 2015 on their way to winning the pool, while the Wallabies were also victorious in the RWC 2011 bronze final. Wales ended that run of tournament defeats in Japan, beating Australia at Tokyo Stadium to top Pool D at RWC 2019.
Whoever wins this latest instalment of the rivalry in Lyon will seize the initiative in Pool C, but neither can afford to discount the threat posed by Fiji. The Fijians have been drawn in the same pool as Australia and Wales in 2007, 2015, 2019 and now 2023 too, and edged Wales to a place in the quarter-finals 14 years ago.
Ireland v Scotland, Pool B, 7 October, Stade de France
Ireland will return to Paris on the final Saturday of the pool stage with more than Six Nations bragging rights up for grabs. Unless the European sides both beat South Africa, or slip up against the Asia/Pacific 1 or Europe 2 qualifiers, earlier in the tournament, a place in the quarter-finals will be on the line at Stade de France.
Ahead of France 2023, the sides have met twice at Rugby World Cup. The most recent encounter came in Pool A at RWC 2019, when tries from James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Conway confirmed a 27-3 victory for Ireland in Yokohama.
Meanwhile, Graham Shiel and Gary Armstrong both crossed the whitewash to help Scotland beat Ireland 24-15 at Murrayfield during RWC 1991. Despite that defeat, the Irish still progressed to the quarter-finals as runners-up in Pool 2, something that eluded the Scots 28 years later in Japan.
Japan v Argentina, Pool D, 8 October, Stade de la Beaujoire
As Japan became the first Asian side to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals at RWC 2019, Argentina watched on as England and France progressed from Pool C. Hosts Japan booked their place in the last eight with an impressive win over Scotland in their final Pool A match, but neither the Brave Blossoms nor Los Pumas will want to leave it that late in France.
However, with England, Samoa and Americas 2 also in Pool D at RWC 2023, it seems logical that qualification will still be on the line for at least one of the teams when they meet in Nantes on the final day of pool play.
Argentina and Japan have only met once at Rugby World Cup to date. Los Pumas coach Mario Ladesma lined up at hooker as tries from Agustin Pichot and Diego Albanese helped give the Argentines a 33-12 win in Cardiff during RWC 1999. Victory helped Los Pumas qualify for the quarter-final play-offs, in which they beat Ireland 28-24 in Lens.