Ikuzo! Five crucial games to watch in the first week of the Rugby World Cup

The old sports mindset that a tournament isn't won in the first game may hold true, but that doesn't mean early results can't have massive ramifications on the event.

Your playlist will load after this ad

The inaugural game takes place tonight, with the All Blacks stepping into the spotlight tomorrow. Source: 1 NEWS

This Rugby World Cup is a prime example. 

Over the first week of action, four results from the 12 games on offer could have a serious impact on how the knockout stages of the World Cup shape up.

There's also a fifth game of heavy importance when it comes to setting the tempo for a potentially historic campaign.

With all that in mind, here's five games over the next seven days to watch out for that could make or break World Cup campaigns.

1. Pool A: Japan v Russia

Friday 20 September, 10:45pm NZT, Tokyo

Your playlist will load after this ad

The Brave Blossoms have never made the quarter-finals at a World Cup. Source: 1 NEWS

After an introduction like that, you'd think Japan v Russia is no where near worth including on this list but the opening game of the World Cup has plenty to offer for the Brave Blossoms.

Tonight's game in Tokyo has to be a statement for Jamie Joseph and his squad. Throughout the week, they have reiterated time and time again their goal this year is to make the quarter-finals for the first time in history.

To do that, they'll need all the help they can get - coincidentally, there's 126.8 million potential fans at their disposal if they can put on a good display in front of their home crowd first-up.

Since that brilliant 2015 World Cup upset against the Springboks, rugby in Japan has been building momentum, whether organisors intended it or not, the Brave Blossoms have a chance to show the culmination of four more years worth of development against a weak opposition in Russia.

Russia is currently ranked 20th - 10 places below Japan and funnily enough their biggest ever loss came at the hands of the Brave Blossoms back in 2010 in where else but Tokyo.

A performance like that tonight would go a long way to helping them reach their goal along with another particular game on Sunday which we'll get to in a bit.

2. Pool D: Australia v Fiji

Saturday 21 September, 4:45pm NZT, Sapporo

Fiji players embrace after beating France. Source: Getty

This contest comes down to the unknown quantity that is Fiji.

At their best, they are giant-killing machines boasting combining flair and raw power like that seen last November when they toppled France in Paris.

Even when they aren't at that peak, they can still be a handful and with a backline like the one they've named for tomorrow's clash, you'd expect to be at least that much.

No offence to Georgia or Uruguay but Pool D has three big players - the Wallabies, the Flying Fijians and Wales.

A loss for either side tomorrow means they'll need to beat Wales later on which is certainly possible but entering that game with a win up your sleeve versus a win-or-home mentality can mean a lot in high-pressure environments like the World Cup.

While the Wallabies rightfully enter the game as favourites, their recent huge loss to the All Blacks in Auckland and a concerning second half lapse against Manu Samoa have left the door open for Fiji to claim the tournament's first upset.

3. Pool C: France v Argentina

Saturday 21 September, 7:15pm NZT, Tokyo

Pumas players celebrate after scoring. Source: 1 NEWS

Much like the situation in Pool D, Pool C has three top nations fighting for two quarter-final berths - England, France and Los Pumas.

So much like Australia v Fiji, tomorrow evening's clash between France and Argentina could ultimately decide who goes through and who goes home.

But unlike the aforementioned Test, both teams in this match have a history of making it out of pool play.

France in fact are yet to be sent packing in pool play and besides 1991 and 2015, have always finished in the top four - they've even reached the final on three separate occasions [1987, 1999 and 2011] only to come up just short as the Northern Hemisphere's second champion.

But after they were booted out of the 2015 event by the All Blacks with a brutal 62-13 quarter-final loss, France haven't looked threatening like they once were.

In the last four Six Nations Championships, Les Bleus have finished fifth once [2016], fourth twice [2018, 2019] and second [2017].

Mix that in with a loss to Fiji at the end of last year and suddenly France are looking vulnerable to an Argentinian side that has built well over four years of being constantly tested in the Rugby Championship as well as developed through their Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares.

Mix that in with Argentina's recent performances at World Cups which includes third in 2007 and fourth in 2015 and these once-were-minnows suddenly look like warriors.

4. Pool B: New Zealand v South Africa

Saturday 21 September, 9:45pm, Yokohama

Your playlist will load after this ad

Hansen used the example of France at the 2011 RWC, of a team that made the final after losing a pool game. Source: 1 NEWS

In some ways, this game means plenty. In others, very little.

With Italy, Namibia and Canada rounding out Pool B, tomorrow night's winner in Yokohama between the two Southern Hemisphere giants won't result in the other worrying about going home [unless the Springboks pull a 2015 against Italy, but let's be honest].

Instead, this game is about sending a message to the rest of the competition.

For the All Blacks, it's letting everyone know they're here to defend their title and the early wobbles of 2019 are well and truly behind them.

For South Africa, it's showing they're a team that's rediscovered their identity and a style of play that they will hope leads them to a third world title.

Of note, no team has lost a pool game and gone on to win the Rugby World Cup since its inception.

Then again, both these sides have a thing for making history.

5. Pool A: Ireland v Scotland

Sunday 22 September,  7:45pm NZT, Yokohama

Jacob Stockdale runs in to score for Ireland against Scotland Source: Associated Press

Finally, the other big Pool A game of the first week.

With Japan's intentions well and truly on the table, the loser of this contest will effectively scrap with the Brave Blossoms to get out of pool play - either will enter as favourites but they'll know with all of Japan and anyone who loves a good underdog story against them, it's a pressure cauldron you'd rather miss.

Sunday's match will also be Ireland's first since they took over as the No.1 ranked side in the world. While it probably isn't on their minds, there's still expectations that come with that.

When Scotland and Ireland clashed in the Six Nations earlier this year, Ireland came out on top 22-13 at Murrayfield.