After the All Blacks swept aside Canada at Oita Sauna, sorry, Stadium, every team has now played twice at this World Cup. That means it's time to start separating fact from fiction.
HANSEN IS PLAYING CHESS, THE REST ARE PLAYING CHECKERS
Steve Hansen's 2015 edition had already dispelled the idea that dull, defence-oriented rugby is the only way to win a World Cup, but there was a general sense that opposing coaches had figured out the way to stop the All Blacks was to employ a relentless rush defence.
This line speed would force the All Blacks to play either a high-risk game behind the gain line or to kick away possession more often than they would like. To an extent it has worked and the All Blacks has been less polished in the past 18 months than they have been in the entirety of Hansen's reign.
Well, it might be that the All Blacks were just playing possum. Hansen had a plan for that all along.
FICTION: The first part of that statement rings true. The twin-pivot strategy that has Richie Mo'unga wearing No 10 and Beauden Barrett wearing No 15, yet has them playing not too dissimilarly from a halfback-standoff pairing in league, is bearing fruit. A rush defence is so much harder to commit to when you have trouble identifying the point of attack.
Hansen's development of Ardie Savea and Anton Lienert-Brown has been timed perfectly to the point where they are not just at their athletic primes at this World Cup, but are increasingly influential.
Add to that the insistence of including ball-playing, mobile props without sacrificing scrum grunt and everything points to a strategist par excellence.
The problem with the opening statement is it assumes nobody else is at the chessboard. That would be a mistake.
There are a couple of wily campaigners who look like they have their teams primed at just the right time, too, and they need little introduction – Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones.
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Right now there are several readers who are thinking along these lines: "Oh, p*** off, Wales haven't beaten the All Blacks since Sid Holland was prime minister, and Eddie Jones has never beaten the All Blacks as coach of England."
They would be right, too (though Jones has only had one crack and was fairly unlucky to lose by a point last year), but we should show more discretion when equating coaching prowess with the quality of stock.
Neither Jones nor Gatland have the athletes with the special sauce that Hansen has at his disposal, but they've both conjured up gameplans to make their sides fiendishly tricky opponents. We need only go back to 2017 to see how Gatland could quickly mould a team of disparate individuals from multiple countries to go toe-to-toe with the All Blacks.
Meanwhile, Jones' long-term plan has been so carefully mapped out that while in the midst of a world-record win streak he warned his biographer Donald McRae: "Wait until the third season, mate. We might hit a bit of a low then." He was right.
Yes, the All Blacks look wonderfully tuned. Yes, there is nobody forcing their way into World Cup favouritism ahead of them.
But minimise the coaching prowess of others at your peril.
THE DAYS OF PACIFIC ISLAND FAIRYTALES ARE OVER
The combined results of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji make for grim reading: played six, won one, lost five. The one win was Samoa's 34-9 thumping of a Russian side that is arguably the weakest at the tournament.
Fiji, a team stacked with some of the most talented footballers on the planet, lost to Uruguay for goodness sake.
Samoa followed up their opening win by being down-trou'ed by a Scotland team that looked barely competent during their first-up loss to Ireland.
Tonga have yet to be embarrassed but they also never looked like winning against England or Argentina.
The international game, it seems, has left the islands behind.
FACT (with a caveat): Sadly true. To watch the Pasifika teams struggle so badly is to watch a little bit of rugby's soul dying.
World Rugby will argue that they've never put more resources into the islands but it's a hollow argument. To reduce the plight of the Pacific nations to money would be crass.
For sure, they need cash, but more than that they need bricks-and-mortar and contract infrastructure, they need access to their players for longer and they need more international contact with Tier One nations.
Even with all of the above, there is still an element of a numbers game. By comparison to rugby's superpowers, the three nations have tiny populations. Their talent diaspora is one of the great sporting phenomena of our age; the fact they can't access that talent when Tier One nations chew them up and spit them out is one of the great shames of this sporting age.
There could be another golden age of Pasifika rugby. There could be a time like 2007 when Fiji took South Africa deep in the quarter-final, or like 1991 when Samoa beat Wales, or even 2011 when Tonga beat France.
It will require a lot more than cash though. It will require a quantum shift in rugby's geopolitical power structure.
A "VIRTUAL" OFFSIDE LINE IS INEVITABLE
The offside line is rugby's biggest bugbear. In this age of flat attack and line-speed defence, vigilant policing of the offside line is, more often than not, the difference between an attractive sport and a tedious one.
It is also fair to say that while World Rugby has controversially, yet relatively effectively, cracked down on foul and dangerous play, the offside line has remained a lottery from game to game - hence the mixed reviews of Angus Gardner's performance in the Japan-Ireland boilover. The Irish hated it; neutral rugby observers were far kinder.
It is a huge ask for referees, even with assistants running the line, to effectively police the offside line when defences fan across the field and try to time their "rush" perfectly at every breakdown. This aspect of the game needs to be policed by a virtual line, similar to what is used to mark 10 yards in the NFL.
FACT: The question should be: Why the hell isn't it in use already? The technology is, by modern standards, ridiculously easy to install and with the rollout of 5G, the processing of information will be as close to instantaneous as possible, with a message relayed to the onfield referee in real time.
There would be no grey areas in that most vital of all imaginary latitudes – the gain line.
It should also put paid to the dubious practice of referees allowing rush defenders who have come up too early to give themselves up and retreat without sanction. The damage has already been done by then because halfbacks can see the defender in their peripheral vision and instinct tells them not to spin the ball wide.
Fix the offside line with technology and you fix a lot of rugby's aesthetic problems.