Johannesburg - South Africa coach Allister Coetzee predicted Thursday that the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B opener against greatest rivals New Zealand in Japan will be a "massive contest".
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It will be the fifth clash of the twice world champions Springboks and the three-time title-holders All Blacks at the four-yearly tournament with honours even at two victories each.
Reacting to the announcement of the 2019 schedule in Tokyo, Coetzee said the Pool B opener is "bound to be another massive contest.
"There is a great and proud rivalry between the Springboks and the All Blacks and we are really excited to meet them first up."
Referring to a 25-24 Rugby Championship loss to New Zealand in Cape Town last month, Coetzee said that match had given his players "a lot of belief".
The Newlands thriller came a month after the Springboks were humiliated 57-0 in Auckland - the heaviest Test defeat suffered by the country.
"New Zealand are the number one rugby side in the world at the moment and we are aware how good they are," admitted the 54-year-old handler.
"If we keep on improving, it will make for an even more interesting match in Japan."
Although New Zealand have won 11 of the last 12 Tests against South Africa, three of the four World Cup matches between them have been extremely close.
The Springboks triumphed 15-12 after extra time in the 1995 final in Johannesburg and pipped the All Blacks 22-18 four years later in the third-place play-off in Cardiff.
South Africa were routed 29-9 in a 2003 quarter-final in Melbourne and New Zealand won 20-18 in an epic 2015 semi-final in London.
Italy, an African qualifier - probably Namibia - and the winner of the repechage complete Pool B.
While New Zealand and South Africa will be hot favourites to fill the top two places in the standings and secure quarter-finals places, Coetzee struck a cautionary note.
"We have a lot of respect for all the teams in our pool and it is important to prepare very well for each match."
South Africa play New Zealand on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, the African qualifiers on September 28 in Aichi, then Italy on October 4 in Shizuoka and the repechage winners on October 8 in Kobe.