48 games, at least 3840 minutes of rugby. Don't concern yourself with all that malarkey when all you need is the following 600 words to tell you what's going to happen. Don't thank us, thank the tea leaves. Dylan Cleaver reports
Pool A: Only one game to worry about here. The Revenge, or as they say in Montpellier "la Revanche" or in Cardiff "Ymddial", is the only game to quicken the pulse in a relatively weak pool, though they're rightly getting worked up in Winnipeg about the September 14 clash between Canada and Tonga in Whangarei. As it turns out, the All Blacks score a comfortable victory as French coach Marc Lievremont rests some key players ahead of their quarter-final clash with England.
Final pool standings: New Zealand, France, Canada, Tonga, Japan.
Pool B: This is a cracking pool on paper, but a sadly flaccid one on grass. England win after scraping past Argentina in Dunedin and outplaying Scotland by six penalties to four at Eden Park (that will be the last cheap shot you find on this page). The real interest will come at Wellington on September 25, where Scotland and Argentina effectively do battle for a quarter-final showdown with the All Blacks. It's a draw. Argentina advance on a countback.
Final pool standings: England, Argentina, Scotland, Georgia, Romania.
Pool C: Expect the USA to avenge the 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal playoff result when they meet Russia in New Plymouth, but it's for fourth and fifth spots only. Australia thump everybody in the group, announcing themselves as unbackable favourites to reach the final so, fittingly, all interest hinges on the last pool game of the tournament - Ireland v Italy indoors at Stadium Otago. Ireland do just enough to boost sales of Guinness and that wretched Kilkenny stuff.
Final pool standings: Australia, Ireland, Italy, USA, Russia.
Pool D: If you've jumped to Pool D just to see if Samoa upset Wales again, sorry, you'll be disappointed (unless you're Welsh, in which case you'll be relieved). Don't worry, Samoa, you'll always have Australia at Sydney. This is a fascinating pool, with Namibia the only whipping boys. Fiji, unfortunately, are a long way removed from the team that frightened the Boks at Marseille in '07. The match of the pool comes early, with South Africa drawing against Wales in Wellington.
Final pool standings: South Africa, Wales, Samoa, Fiji, Namibia.
Australia 34 Wales 13
A couple of early penalties give the Welsh brief hope, but they have no answer to the wizardry of Pat McCabe (who else?), conceding three tries to one.
England 23 France 21
Drama. Super-sub Jonny Wilkinson lines up for a drop goal that will take the game into extra time, but it is a cunning ruse and the ball goes wide for Chris Ashton to score in the corner.
South Africa 19 Ireland 14
Ireland's World Cup under-achievement continues, but not before giving the defending champions a real fright in the capital. One last piece of Brian O'Driscoll magic is not quite enough.
New Zealand 42 Argentina 10
To be honest, after a difficult pool, Los Pumas were running on empty at Eden Park. Two quick tries to Conrad Smith and a fit-again Kieran Read kill this off as a spectacle early.
Australia 17 England 12
Which just goes to show you don't need a heap of tries to have a wildly entertaining game. (marred as it turned out by some disgraceful behaviour by Wallaby fans at the Kingslander bar).
New Zealand 28 South Africa 15
A surprisingly comfortable victory against an old foe who had sleepwalked their way through the tournament. Ali Williams back to his best against the towering Victor Matfield.
New Zealand ? Australia ?
Contractual obligations have prevented us publishing the result. What we can say is this: a New Zealand-born coach is going to be very, very happy.