The wait is over, Chris Robshaw leads hosts England out at Twickenham tonight to play Fiji and kick off the Rugby World Cup that promises six weeks of spectacular record breaking.
Organisers say they will get their biggest ever World Cup revenues $370 million — the 203 countries and territories watching on television are a new record.
And on the pitch New Zealand hope they will become the first team to win back-to-back titles.
Bookmakers are backing Richie McCaw’s All Blacks, just ahead of England. But the tournament’s 28-year history is littered with the wrecked hopes of favourites.
CENTRE OF ATTENTION
And Robshaw — along with his Australia, South Africa and France counterparts — is among rivals hoping they can pull off an upset in the pressure cooker atmosphere.
“We are under no illusions as to exactly how big it is going to be,” Robshaw told the BBC.
“But as players it’s about going out there and playing our game, and trying not to get too caught up in the emotion.”
England and Fiji will be the immediate centre of attention at Twickenham, the host country’s home ground for more than a century and one of rugby’s biggest stadiums with an 82,500 seat capacity and its own hotel.
But the focus of the 20-team tournament will soon switch to the form of defending champions New Zealand.
The All Blacks have been the game’s standard-setters for more than 100 years — having won more 76 percent of all their Tests and close to 90 percent since 2012.
Victories over New Zealand are some of the most highly-prized successes in sport.
However, no side have won two straight World Cups and even with all their fiery haka ceremonies, the All Blacks have yet to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy on foreign soil.