While the Rugby World Cup may still be in its infancy, we have already had an earth-shattering result as minnows Japan overcame the mighty South Africa 34-32 in their opening group match.
This has already been lauded the greatest shock in Rugby World Cup history, and although it may be a one-off it appears to herald the dawn of a keenly-contested and unusually close competition.
So while the all-conquering All Blacks remain firm favourites to lift the crown in October, New Zealand may find fulfilling this prophecy harder than ever.
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While we cannot read too much into a single result (especially after Japan were thumped 45-10 by Scotland in their next outing), the Rugby World Cup has never seen an upset of this magnitude.
Fiji have beaten France and Samoa have overcome Wales in previous tournaments, but these exotic, ball-playing nations have always possessed the flair and adventure to catch bigger-hitters off guard.
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Even accounting for the improvements in the Japanese game, the magnitude of the national team beating third-ranked South Africa is truly unprecedented.
Given that Fiji and Argentina also put up robust performances in losing to England and New Zealand respectively, it is clear that smaller and less well-resourced sides are fitter, stronger and more competitive than in previous years.
Sporting Index recently produced an insightful infographic to underline this point further, as it was as recently as 2003 that Australia beat Namibia by a staggering 142 points to nil to set a World Cup record.
Even though Namibia have returned and will play New Zealand in this years’ group stage, it is unlikely that the team will lose by such a margin this time around.
Our final thoughts
The highest point totals recorded in Rugby World Cup matches were also generated between 1995 and 2007, but it has been eight years since more than 111 points have been plundered during a game.
This highlights the increasing levels of professionalism in the game, with smaller sides more capable of defending resolutely and for longer periods of time.
While this does not mean that a nation such as Japan or Argentina will suddenly compete for the ultimate prize on the world stage, it does complicate the situation for potential winners such as New Zealand, England and Ireland.
Suddenly the road to glory no longer looks as smooth as it did before, and this World Cup certainly has the potential to be the most competitive yet.
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