By now you will be well aware the official World Rugby rankings are, well, a bit of an ongoing joke. So here at the Herald we decided to compile our own. These aren't based on odd mathematical equations but, rather, geared solely towards providing perspective on the eve of the World Cup.
1. All Blacks (Official Ranking - 2)
Retain top spot for two central reasons. The first is they won the past two World Cups, and in this arena, that experience in both the management and senior players counts for plenty.
The other is Japan's expected hot, hard and fast conditions should suit their inherent attacking skills more than anyone, barring maybe Fiji. That much was clear against Tonga.
Unlike the past two World Cups, though, the All Blacks don't carry the same fear factor into this edition.
In 2011 they rode home comforts. Four years later their most experienced team in history did the double – their only real scares coming in the opening match against Argentina and the semifinal with the Springboks.
In recent headline tests, specifically Perth and Wellington, the All Blacks largely flattered to deceive.
A messy start to this season, with squads split during the Rugby Championship, further challenged the task of implementing new attacking structures which are only now gradually bedding in.
Damian McKenzie's injury absence also disrupted the balance of the team.
Dismantling the Wallabies at Eden Park, and the romp over Tonga aside, fluency has been lacking from the All Blacks. The result over the past 12 months is belief among other contenders has grown. That factor alone can't be underestimated or dismissed.
The All Blacks will arrive in Japan confident in their ability, gameplans and temperament but questions linger around many of their best combinations after injuries to five players robbed them of opportunities against Tonga.
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They also find themselves on the difficult side of the draw. Their opening match against the Springboks will probably decide who meets Ireland in the quarter-final, and a possible semifinal against England may then wait.
To create further history, the All Blacks may need to navigate this road just to reach the final, where they could again face the Springboks.
2. South Africa (Official Ranking - 4)
One for those who gravitate towards spooky coincidences: South Africa won the third World Cup in 1995, the sixth in 2007, and must now be considered strong contenders to claim the ninth in Japan. Each of those titles also came two years before they hosted the Lions.
The Boks are a team that, under the guidance of the astute Rassie Erasmus, has been steadily building.
Selecting overseas-based players has certainly bolstered stocks. Classy halfback Faf de Klerk, electric wing Cheslin Kolbe, fullback Willie le Roux, flanker Francois Louw and big booting backline utility Frans Steyn are among valuable additions from abroad.
Siya Kolisi has proved an inspired choice as captain – a figure to again unite the nation behind the Boks. Kolisi also forms a formidable loose trio with Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit, the latter two harnessing the traditional strength and size the Boks will attempt to impose.
Defensively the Boks' rush midfield defence leaves them exposed to exploiting space on the edges, and they are guilty of being conservative, predictable even, on attack at times by favouring their big, one-off forward runners.
But if you need any reminder of how close that opening match could be, look no further than the one point that separates the All Blacks and Springboks over their past four tests – two in Wellington, two in South Africa – since 2017. One point. That's why they deserve second spot.
The question for the Boks is can they hack the pace of the game in Japan?
3. England (Official Ranking - 3)
Grubber the rugby ball 100 times and you will never be sure which way it will bounce. This is England in a nutshell. Of all northern hopefuls, they possess the most threats. Yet Eddie Jones at the helm, and England's dire recent World Cup record, scream caution.
Placing the Red Rose ahead of Ireland and Wales requires a leap of faith but I've seen enough over the past year to feel if they keep key players on the park, and they don't choke, England should give this World Cup a proper shake.
The Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, combining with Manu Tuilagi are a fearsome prospect for any side to counter.
England boasts a pack to match the best of them, and centre Henry Slade is a class act.
Halfback is an area of weakness and, under pressure, England are vulnerable especially when needing to adapt gameplans mid-match.
Faced with the pool of death alongside France and Argentina, this will make or break Jones' squad. It could leave them battle-hardened or stripped of key personnel.
To clinch the crown England must win five top-tier tests in a row and that is no easy feat.
One pool loss would not be terminal but arrive at the knockouts unbeaten, having topped the pool, and the chariot could well gather speed.
With a head of steam, England could be difficult to stop.
4. Ireland (Official Ranking - 1)
Like tucking into a hearty winter stew, there is plenty to chew over ahead of Joe Schmidt's quest to break Ireland's quarter-final ceiling.
After their giddy heights of 2018, when Ireland were widely considered the world's best, a sharp regression to the pack has transpired.
Off and on the pitch, Ireland have appeared rattled.
What began with a shock, opening Six Nations beating by England in Dublin continued with a desperately disappointing loss to Wales in Cardiff. Peak panic was then reached after the recent 57-15 belting at Twickenham.
Playing dead, or peaked too early?
It would be foolish to write-off the Irish – they have far too much depth and class for that. But there must be concerns their game, based largely around dominating collisions, retaining possession, accurate kicking and the odd trick play has been worked out, somewhat.
Switching tack this close to a World Cup is difficult.
In a sign of mounting pressure, Schmidt was forced to name his squad six days early and has fronted much more media of late to shield the team from criticism and attempt to control messages.
Controversy centred on the inclusion of a third foreign player, South African-born Jean Kleyn at the expense of veteran lock and lineout influencer Devin Toner, but many knowledgeable scribes also note this is the strongest World Cup squad Ireland has assembled.
Schmidt and defensive expert Andy Farrell are extremely savvy characters who meticulously plan every detail. They know the World Cup is not won in the Six Nations, nor in warm-up fixtures.
Johnny Sexton is back for the final warm up against Wales this weekend; add Joey Carbery off the bench at fullback where he will add another dimension to the attack, and Ireland could prove a different beast.
Given recent form, they will need to be.
On paper, with James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong leading the way up front and Jacob Stockdale wider out, Ireland should top their pool.
Even if they drop one match, they are destined to face the Springboks or All Blacks in the quarter-final where past demons must then be confronted.
5. Wales (Official Ranking - 5)
Fifth is, perhaps, a harsh ranking for the Six Nations grand slam champions.
Warren Gatland, in his final stand with Wales before joining the Chiefs, believes this is the best World Cup squad he has assembled but major injury blows have shorn him of preferred playmaker Gareth Anscombe and Lions No 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Depth at No 10 appears thin, with Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell now required to step up.
Gatland's World Cup record is indifferent. His Welsh side probably would have reached the 2011 final but for Sam Warburton's sending off for a tip tackle in the semifinal against France. Defence coach Shaun Edwards then proclaimed Wales would have in fact beaten the All Blacks in the Eden Park decider.
Make of that what you will, given Wales' last win against the All Blacks came in 1953.
Four years ago the Springboks dumped Wales out in the quarter-finals but they have come a long way since. Despite the presence of Australia and Fiji in the pool, Gatland's gameplan is suited to surviving knockouts and so Wales should reach the semis.
Truth is sights are firmly set on claiming their first Webb Ellis Cup.
Wales, more so than England, have proven they will not be overawed by the occasion. With seven Lions in their squad experience is not in short supply either.
Their nagging doubt must be replicating form away from Cardiff comforts, away from the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Wales won the Six Nations due to defensive superiority. While they conceded seven tries from five games, they only managed to score 10 – the joint lowest with Italy.
Do they possess the attacking game to stick with others in Japan?
Best of the rest:
6. Wallabies (Official Ranking - 6)
It's one thing to front when no one expect it, quite another when everything is on the line, as it will be in Japan.
In Perth it seemed the Wallabies house finally had some order restored following the appointment of Scott Johnson as director of rugby and Rebels assistant Shaun Berne replacing attack coach Stephen Larkham after he was offered as the fall guy for Australia's worst season since 1958.
Clearly, though, there is no quick fix for Australian rugby. That much was evident as they undid all their positive work with an inept and humbling performance at Eden Park to again wave goodbye to the Bledisloe.
Michael Cheika inspired the Wallabies to the last World Cup final but, based on their recent body of work, four years on it's difficult to predict Australia progressing past the quarter-finals, even with the most experienced team at the tournament (1406 caps, 211 more than the All Blacks).
Mentally more than anything else, Eden Park exposed worrying weakness.
7. Argentina (Official Ranking - 11)
Los Pumas reached the final four of the last World Cup and stunned France at home in 2007 to finish third but need a dramatic form reversal to pull off similar feats.
Argentina endures a rough ride, particularly from a travel perspective, in the Southern Hemisphere yet the Jaguares were the success story of the Super Rugby season by making the final.
Twenty-six Jaguares are in Argentina's World Cup squad, with the big surprise the omission of the supremely talented Toulon-based Facundo Isa.
Unfortunately for the Pumas, the Jaguares' success has not translated to the test arena. Their record under Mario Ledesma, despite the addition of former team-mate Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe to the coaching team, features two wins - against South Africa and Australia last year - from their past 13 tests.
To be fair the Pumas have won eight of 41 tests since the last World Cup, emphasising their Rugby Championship struggles.
Their frantic offloading game still lacks balance, though conditions in Japan should suit this style of attack, while ill-discipline fuelled by headstrong passion often proves their undoing.
Led by powerful loose forward Pablo Matera, I suspect the Pumas will again knock over France in their opening match and, therefore, do enough to reach the quarter-finals, where anything is possible, but this test season offered little evidence of genuine progression.
8. France (Official Ranking - 8)
"We are in a difficult pool and nobody rates us," French coach Jacques Brunel said after announcing his squad, the notable talking point the exclusion of impressive lock Felix Lambey. "Our objective is to get through the pool phase. After that, history shows we are always capable of approaching the highest summits."
Sound familiar? Of course it does. The French World Cup theme is the same as ever.
With an abundance of brilliant, youthful talent highlighted by lethal halfback Antoine Dupont, playmaker Romain Ntamack and the ever-present danger of Thomas Ramos, France are always a threat.
Embrace the Toulouse and Clermont flair and France, led by hooker Guilhem Guirado and having recalled veteran No 8 Louis Picamoles, could well inflict further World Cup heartbreak.
More likely, though, they will fail to progress from the pool for the first time.
Their typically erratic state is summed up by recent coaching changes. After a Six Nations in which France were badly embarrassed at Twickenham, Fabien Galthie was called in to "assist" Brunel, only many suspect the former halfback is now coach in everything but title.
9. Scotland (Official Ranking - 7)
Dudded four years ago by Craig Joubert's howler which cost them victory over the Wallabies and a maiden semifinal appearance under Vern Cotter, Scotland now face a scrap to emerge from their pool.
The Scots are something of a dark horse in the sense that, when they click, they are capable of stunning anyone but too often performances come in fits and starts. Their rousing second half comeback against England at Twickenham, and near victory over the All Blacks at Murrayfield, case in point.
Scotland possess brilliant individuals – Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Hamish Watson, Ali Price and Kiwis Blade Thomson and Sean Maitland - but struggle for consistency.
Gregor Townsend's men had a poor Six Nations, with one win over Italy, and the recent 44-10 victory over Georgia in Tbilisi was their first away win since June, 2018.
These away struggles reflect their 17-14 home win and 32-3 away loss to France in recent World Cup warm-up fixtures.
"We've got a stronger squad now than we've ever had," Townsend said. "To have everybody available now should mean we've never been in a better position over the last two or three years to play at our best."
10. Japan (Official Ranking - 10)
More than half (16 players) Japan's squad were born outside the host nation.
That includes South Africans Lappies Labuschagne and Wimpie van der Walt, the controversial Amanaki Mafi, who is awaiting trial for assault in Dunedin, fellow Tongan Asaeli Ai Valu, fullback William Tupou and midfielder Timothy Lafaele, Australian lock James Moore and New Zealanders Luke Thompson and courageous captain Michael Leitch, who moved to Japan aged 15.
Jamie Joseph defended these selections by suggesting many attended university in Japan but, in the same breath, also conceded foreign players offered a point of difference in size and experience.
The make-up of the squad aside, Joseph and Tony Brown should have Japan well prepared after their dominant Pacific Nations Cup lifted them to ninth in the official rankings, though they were thumped by the Springboks in their final warm up.
There are huge expectations and pressure to make the most of home advantage and better Japan's performance at the last World Cup where they narrowly missed their first quarter-final after embarrassing the Boks with the greatest upset in history.
Joseph has targeted improving the Japanese fitness by training at levels he believes are 20 per cent above test standard and they may, therefore, be the only team that attempts to adopt a quicker tempo than the All Blacks.
11. Fiji (Official Ranking - 9)
The leading Pacific Island hope unfortunately finds themselves in a difficult pool and, thus, reaching their third quarter-final - after those in 1987 and 2007 - will require another magical display to savour.
Fiji are no strangers to World Cup upsets – Wales on the receiving end in '07.
To progress this time, Fiji must overcome Georgia and also shock Wales or the Wallabies.
As always they are blessed with some of the world's most gifted athletes but as is typical of the Island nations they lack the infrastructure, funding, administration and pathways to become a consistent world-class force.
That said, conditions should suit their athletic, offloading game.
In their dynamic category you'll find Racing 92 lock Leone Nakarawa; Edinburgh's Viliame Mata, one of Europe's best No 8s, La Rochelle's Levani Botia who is equally powerful at loose forward or in the midfield, Lyon wing Josh Tuisova, Harlequins flanker Semi Kunatani, a member of Ben Ryan's 2016 Olympic gold-medal winning sevens team, and former Parramatta Eels star Semi Radradra.
During their World Cup preparations Fiji coach John McKee enjoyed a maiden home win over New Zealand Māori but a disappointing Pacific Nations Cup, where they lost to Japan, tempers expectations.