South Africa are the outstanding favourites to emerge at the top of Pool B at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with Scotland and Samoa set to fight for second spot.
Neither Japan nor the USA are expected to trouble the three heavyweights in this pool although the Brave Blossoms have lofty ambitions of making the quarter-finals.
The winners of this group will face the runners-up of Pool A – aka the 'Pool of Death' – and are on a collision course with New Zealand if they get past that quarter-final. The second-placed team from this group will face the winner of Pool A.
Scotland have a massive advantage over their pool rivals as they play their two big games – against South Africa and Samoa – in the northern city of Newcastle, which is as close to a home venue as they could hope for.
South Africa v Samoa
Samoa v Scotland
The first major fixture of this pool comes on the second weekend of the tournament as South Africa clash with Samoa. The Springboks will have enjoyed one extra day of rest, although that may not matter much depending on who they use in their respective openers against Japan and the USA. If the Boks get a good result, they'll take plenty of momentum into their clash with Scotland to wrap up top spot.
The climax of Pool B will come in the group's final fixture, when Scotland face Samoa at St. James' Park with the winners almost certain to secure a quarter-final berth. Samoa won the last time these two team met, back in 2013.
Potential for upsets: Samoa always raise their game for the Rugby World Cup and the islanders will be seeking revenge for their narrow defeat to the Springboks in Pool D of the 2011 tournament. The Samoans felt robbed by a red card in the dying minutes when they had the Boks under the cosh in North Harbour. An upset win for Samoa will throw the pool wide open. Meanwhile, Japan will secretly hope to shock Scotland or Samoa, but it's unlikely to happen.
South Africa vs Japan, 19 September, Brighton Community Stadium
Samoa vs USA, 20 September, Brighton Community Stadium
Scotland vs Japan, 23 September, Kingsholm Stadium
South Africa vs Samoa, 26 September, Villa Park
Scotland vs USA, 27 September, Elland Road
Samoa vs Japan, 3 October, Stadiummk
South Africa vs Scotland, 3 October, St James' Park
South Africa vs USA, 7 October, Olympic Stadium
Samoa vs Scotland, 10 October, St James' Park
USA vs Japan, 11 October, Kingsholm Stadium
Dream scenario: The Brave Blossoms have no chance of troubling South Africa on the opening weekend so they'll target their clash with Scotland, which follows just four days later. If they can sneak a result against either the Scots or Samoa, then they could be in the running for a play-offs berth when they face the USA in the last game of the pool stages. Irrespective of what comes before, that game will be the focus of their tournament.
Nightmare scenario: Japan have long dominated Asian rugby but have consistently fallen short on the big stage with their only World Cup win coming against Zimbabwe in 1991. Another winless tournament would be a catastrophe for the 2019 hosts, but if they pick up injuries to key players in their first three games, they may struggle against the Americans.
Dream scenario: After coming so close against the Boks in 2011 and having beaten Scotland with an under-strength team last time out, Samoa head coach Stephen Betham will tell his players they can win this group. It's not impossible, especially considering that – unlike previous years – the islanders have no midweek games, meaning they have six or seven days rest between each fixture. Unlike Fiji, the Samoans have real strength in their pack and Tim Nanai-Williams will bring extra spark to their backs. Their schedule couldn't be better with a game against the USA set to provide momentum before facing SA. They'll then be able to rest some first-teamers for Japan in the build up to the showdown with Scotland.
Nightmare scenario: Not making it out of the group is just as possible, and probably more so. Samoa made the knockout stages in each of their first three participations in the World Cup but they haven't played a quarter-final since 1995. The aforementioned win against Scotland in 2013 was their first ever and they have never beaten the Springboks. A slow start against the Americans or a few injuries could take the wind out of their sails relatively quickly.
Dream scenario: Although just four days apart, games against Japan and the USA provide a relatively easy build-up that should give Scotland plenty of confidence ahead of the big fixtures against South Africa and then Samoa. Vern Cotter's side will then focus on upsetting the Springboks (for the first time since 2010) in a stadium that should be full of Scots in Newcastle. Cotter should be able to settle on a team to take the side through the final two games. Even a losing bonus point should set the Scots up nicely for the showdown with Samoa, which is at the same venue, not far from the border with Scotland.
Nightmare scenario: While Scotland should have enough firepower to get past Japan and the USA, both those sides will harbour ambitions of causing an upset. Defeat in either of those game will effectively end any hopes of a quarter-final spot. Even with wins against those two, losing to South Africa is likely which makes for a high-stakes, high pressure showdown with Samoa.
Dream scenario: The Springboks have the hardest path to the final via the knock-out stages, but have been drawn in arguably the easiest pool, which is a nightmare in itself. Heyneke Meyer has yet to name his first-choice XV this year so the opening game against Japan could serve as a warm up for his preferred combinations ahead of the back-to-back clashes with Samoa and Scotland. If they get the job done, an entirely new XV will be used when they deal with a short turnaround time against the USA four days later.
Nightmare scenario: South Africa will have little gain from the match against Japan, but it nevertheless comes with the usual risk of injuries, which have plagued the Boks all year. A blip against Samoa similar to the loss against Argentina in the Rugby Championship will throw their campaign into disarray. Finishing second may be a blessing in disguise though as it will mean the two-time champions avoid the All Blacks until the final.
Dream scenario: Even in their wildest dreams, the USA can't aim to get out of this pool. A win of any kind over anyone will be considered a success for the Eagles. Their target will be the match against Japan in the final game of the pool stages. They could sneak a result if Scotland or Samoa underestimate them and arrive unprepared.
Nightmare scenario: The Americans have only won three games from six World Cups, two of those against Pacific Nations Cup rivals Japan, whom they beat in July, so defeat against the Brave Blossoms will be a huge disappointment.
Pool Prediction: No doubt about the favourites to win the pool as South Africa should comfortably finish top. The weather could play a massive role in the battle for second place and if Samoa are greeted by a slippery night in Newcastle, Scotland may just sneak through. Japan to edge out the USA for fourth spot.
1. South Africa