There has never been – in the 36-year, 10-tournament history of the World Cup – a tougher pool than this. In case it needs repeating: three of the top five ranked teams in the world at this moment in time have been pitched together, consisting of current top dogs Ireland, reigning champions and current number two rated team South Africa, and, of course, a Scotland team who are not quite in unchartered territory but have never been as high as fifth coming into a World Cup.

Chuck into the mix a Tonga team bolstered by former All Blacks Charles Puitau, George Moala, Malakai Fekitoa, and Augustine Pulu (who have all become eligible for the Pacific Islanders under World Rugby’s three-year stand-down rule), as well as Glasgow Warriors’ very own human wrecking-ball back-rower Sione Tuipulotu, and this really is the ‘Pool of Death’.

Tonga won’t qualify from this pool but will have a major say in who does/doesn’t. For example, Ireland could really do without taking on the abrasive power of the Pacific Islanders just seven days ahead of their crunch match against South Africa.

Spare a thought for poor Romania, once the coming men of European/world rugby, but now ranked 19th in the world, ahead of only Namibia (21st) and Chile (22nd) at this tournament.

Scotland have been pretty vocal about their chances of progressing to the knock-out stages, and they will have a lot of neutrals rooting for them because of their free-wheeling style of rugby. They’ve had a positive summer, winning all three of their home warm-up matches, and saving their best performance for their one away game against a full-strength French team – when they showed great tenacity to fight back from 27-10 down early in the second half, but crucially still came up just short in that game.

They simply cannot afford to start as slowly as they did in all three of those home games or drop off the pace mid-match as they did in Saint-Etienne if they are to have any chance against either South Africa or Ireland.

The Springboks recognised after winning the 2019 tournament that they wouldn’t repeat the trick by doing the same again, and they have expanded their game plan, tweaking their shape in attack and showing a willingness to give the ball to their electric backs when the space beckons.

Few rise to the occasion like the men in green who, let’s not forget, dismantled Wales and New Zealand in the run-up to the big event. The depth of their squad means they can accommodate injuries better than most of the opposition and, if they can get to the semi-finals, it would be a brave man who bets against them thereafter.

Ireland doesn’t have a particularly happy World Cup history, having never ventured beyond the quarters, and they almost lost to Georgia in 2007, so this squad is looking for redemption.

They are a team consisting of good players who become great when they pull on the green shirt. They boast oodles of patience, holding onto the ball for long periods without making an error, forced or otherwise, and have the happy knack of choosing the right option most of the time. They are the new New Zealanders, highly efficient at what they do.

But when the opposition’s big lads huff and puff, Irish packs begin to struggle, and a scratchy win against Samoa in their last warm-up match was less than convincing. The depth of fly-half cover will also be tested with Johnny Sexton’s 38-year-old body in need of protection during the pool stage, but also needing game-time given that he has not played for weeks thanks to the suspension he was slapped with for haranguing the match officials following Leinster’s Champions Cup defeat to La Rochelle in May.

Who to watch - Finn Russell

The guy is a genius and we should enjoy him while we he is still strutting his stuff. At 30 years of age, he will soon enter the twilight of his career, although he joked recently that he thinks he has another two World Cups in him.

If the stand-off plays at or near his audacious best – feeding the strike runners outside with those long-flat miss-passes and a bewildering array of attacking kicks – then Scotland has a chance.

But if he fails to strike the right balance between control and adventure – opting to go wide too quickly as he did in the first half of the warm-up game against Georgia – then we have a repeat of the 2019 pool exit.

Mack Hansen is a livewire on the is on the card swing for Ireland while South African Canan Moodie is a rising star so we hope he recovers quickly from the hamstring niggle which is keeping him out of tonight’s game against Scotland.

Match of the Pool - Ireland v Scotland

There is inevitably a lot of hype about this evening’s clash between Scotland and South Africa in Marseille, but both teams will still be in the hunt for qualification regardless of the outcome of this encounter.

A hammering such as Scotland suffered in the opening game of the 2019 tournament could leave insurmountable psychological wounds, but assuming Gregor Townsend’s side emerges with self-belief intact, then it will all come down to the final game of the pool against Ireland, at Stade de France in Paris on Saturday 7th October.