There has never been a World Cup set-up quite like this and while the prospect of the All Blacks being knocked out in the quarter-final has never been higher, there is one thing that can help, Gregor Paul argues.
For a few years, probably longer, Wayne Barnes was the man every Kiwi rugby fan hated.
The English barrister was moonlighting as an international referee at the 2007 World Cup, and at just 28 and nowhere near ready to be in charge of quarter-final clash, he infamously ghosted through the second half of the All Blacks' critical game against France and facilitated a famous upset by refusing to blow his whistle.
But 15 years on, Barnes finds himself in the curious position of being the man every New Zealander should want to be in charge of their opening World Cup game next year.
The All Blacks kick their campaign off next year against France in Paris, and it's a fixture that needs the calm, clear head of Barnes.
World Rugby were mad to have given him the All Blacks versus France in 2007, but they would be mad in 2023 to not give him the same contest.
Barnes is now, without doubt, the game's best referee. He had charge of Ireland's game against Scotland this weekend and more than did his bit in enabling the test to be fierce, fair and ferocious.
There were moments of contention, but Barnes dealt with them all – never afraid to bring in the TMO but brave and decisive enough to make his own calls and make them quickly and correctly.
Who would ever have thought that Barnes, so out of his depth and lacking in 2007, would bounce back to be the best referee in the world and the man who will give the All Blacks the sort of precise, clearly communicated and consistent officiating they will need in Paris next year.
And they will need it because what also became clear in the final weekend of Six Nations action is that France are no longer living up to the cliched version of themselves.
The days of inconsistency being their only constant are over. In securing their first Grand Slam in 12 years by so easily and comprehensively defeating England, France rendered all the hackneyed stuff about them being hot and cold, unpredictable and ill-disciplined an absolute lie.
France are now fantastically predictable in that they don't let their standards drop or fluctuate the way they used to.
They have a clarity of vision when they have the ball, just as they do when they don't. Their game is fast, it's powerful and it's bolstered by brilliant offloading out of contact and supremely good defence and work over the ball at the breakdown.
The probable speed, ferocity and intensity of that first World Cup contest next year is set to be memorably high and the importance of the game being well refereed to allow both teams to play the styles they want will be crucial.
New Zealand will welcome a fast, open contest. They want risk in the game – for turnover chances to be created and space to be exploited and a quality referee such as Barnes gives them confidence they will get what they want.
What's equally apparent 18 months out is that the tournament has rammed the four best teams on the same side of the draw, creating the certainty that two of France, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa are not going to make the last four.
It's an incredible prospect, but that's how things are poised as Pool A – which hosts New Zealand and France – are destined to play Pool B – which hosts South Africa, Ireland and Scotland – in the quarter-finals.
There has never been a World Cup set-up quite like this and while the prospect of the All Blacks being knocked out in the quarter-final has never been higher, the flip side is that if they can make the last four, two big scalps will have been knocked out and they will face a semifinal against the likes of Australia, Wales, Argentina, Japan or England.
There are two things the All Blacks will already be thinking about as they cast their eyes forward. One is that they would rather go into the knockout rounds confident and buoyant after beating France.
They are a team that typically plays better when they have belief and certainty rather than when they are under additional scrutiny and pressure.
Secondly, they would most likely rather avoid South Africa in the quarter-final. They can't control that but they will feel they have more chance of getting what they want by winning their pool which would pit them against the runner-up of Pool B.
Hence, even now, 18 months from the tournament kicking off, Barnes looms as an integral figure in New Zealand's campaign and the man New Zealanders are going to have to learn to love.