Top ranked Ireland’s game with No.2 South Africa on Sunday (5am AEST) has the feel of a Rugby World Cup final even though it’s only their third match of the pool stage.
Neither team will be knocked out by defeat at Stade de France, but it will have still have a significant bearing on the rest of the tournament.
The winner will likely top Pool B and avoid hosts France in the quarter-finals, yet face an equally massive contest against three time champions New Zealand.
The stuff of dreams, for fans at least.
Ireland is on a 15 game winning streak but faces a Springboks side chasing a record fourth world title.
SOUTH AFRICA vs. IRELAND (South Africa leads 18-1-8 overall, 0-0 at RWC)
Aside from a 38-3 win for Ireland six years ago, seven of the last 10 meetings have seen a winning margin of six points or less.
So it’s realistic not to expect a feast of attacking rugby.
Only once in the 117 year history of the fixture has a match between them produced more than 50 points overall — South Africa’s 32-26 win at Ellis Park in 2016.
The rivalry dates to 1906 yet they’ve never faced each other at the World Cup, which sounds remarkable enough but says more about Ireland’s failure to get past the quarter-finals.
South Africa won 15 of the first 16 matches between them.
Ireland has won three of their past five meetings, including the previous two in 2017 and 2022, both in Dublin.
South Africa has gone with a 7-1 forwards/backs split in its reserves for only the second time ever to force a fresh pack on Ireland in the second half.
Ireland is playing arguably the most clinical yet attractive rugby of the tournament, and it will have 30,000 fans at Stade de France.
“It’s absolutely incredible. These are the games you want to be playing, at an unbelievable stadium,” Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier said.
“It’s every kid’s dream to get to play in front of that many Irish fans at a World Cup in a stadium like this, against a team like South Africa.”