And then there were three.
The closer the Rugby World Cup gets, the further away an upset result feels. It will come down to New Zealand, South Africa and England – all previous winners - surely.
Wales? Ireland? Australia? No, the stars aren't aligned that way.
And despite the surge of positivity around the All Blacks after Bledisloe Two and the inevitably up-beat squad announcement, look again and the holes reappear.
But the champions are in better shape than the northern pretenders.
Ireland should have gone into this tournament on a high, following a great couple of seasons, but they are skidding into Japan.
Too many of their best players – including Johnny Sexton - are below top form, and like Wales they are a much tougher proposition at home. You get a feeling that Joe Schmidt's magic touch with a veneer of world class players is faltering just at the wrong moment.
Ireland's history says they would have to reach new heights to win the trophy. A very good Irish team – which is what they are – will not be good enough.
Wales need more magic to score enough tries but individually their backs don't look threatening enough. The Welsh DNA is defence orientated and the loss of No 8 Taulupe Faletau cripples their limited attack.
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So much depends upon the warrior spirit of mighty lock Alun Wyn Jones, who will take a hammering.
Australia are easy to evaluate. They can beat anyone, but won't beat enough of them. If they get to the final, they'll be ripe for the picking, as in 2015.
Depth and power is what the World Cup is all about, and that's where South Africa and England have the edge.
If the final was being played this weekend the All Blacks' skill and fitness would catch England and South Africa out.
But the wings are very new, Ben Smith is fading, rookie test props will be thrown into the fray, Brodie Retallick remains a doubtful proposition and Richie Mo'unga – should he be wearing No 10 – is unproven at this level.
The way things have evolved, or maybe the way coaches now design things, none of the big three are close to being fully formed.
South Africa's rush defensive was still a work in progress against fragile Japan. But a tournament is the perfect place for Rassie Erasmus to fine tune this.
England are brewing. Eddie Jones knows the World Cup from every angle – this is the fourth country he has coached in the tournament. Like the All Blacks, he's played a helter-skelter selection game, giving himself options over combinations.
Both Jones and All Black boss Steve Hansen have probably taken this approach further than they needed to, although injuries and form slips – most notably Rieko Ioane's - forced Hansen's hand.
Hansen was finally able to institute a front row revolution, injuries initially hurting the plans, but only in the nick of time.
And that leaves Angus Ta'avao and Atu Moli untested in the arena they will find themselves in, and even impressive Nepo Laulala is a touch underdone. (Tendai Mtawarira, the Springboks veteran, has played more tests than the five All Black props combined. So have the deposed Owen Franks, and Australian Sekope Kepu).
Ultimately, it's impossible to go past the Big Three. England - with Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Jamie George and co. - are building a mighty pack with a horses-for-courses loose forward combination. South Africa have an abundance of frightening power.
I'd be far more bullish about the All Blacks if Retallick's full fitness was assured and his best form established by the playoff stage.
The injury prone Retallick is like Ireland, limping at the wrong moment. It's also important that the health and imminent return of the All Blacks' greatest forward doesn't turn into a distraction.