(CNN) - New Zealand opened the defense of its World Cup title with a thrilling 23-13 win over South Africa that provided plenty of evidence as to why the All Blacks are the choice of many pundits to win Japan 2019.
South Africa had the better of the opening exchanges and led 3-0 through a Handre Pollard penalty as the All Blacks came under sustained pressure. Pollard then missed a relatively easy penalty, before the All Blacks ripped control of the first half away from the Springboks.
Faf de Klerk's loose pass provided the opportunity for an All Blacks breakaway and after Richie Mo'unga's penalty leveled the score, tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett must have left South Africa wondering just how the game had run away from them so quickly.
To their immense credit, the Springboks found their way back into the game after the interval. Cheslin Kolbe's strong running began to trouble New Zealand, while Pieter-Steph du Toit's try and a Pollard drop goal reduced the deficit to 17-13.
South Africa were on top but the All Blacks weathered the storm and two penalties from Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett enabled the world champion to maintain its record of never having lost a World Cup group match.
New Zealand is chasing a third successive World Cup title at Japan 2019.
"For me New Zealand are definitely the favorites for the World Cup, they've always been and I've never had a doubt about that," South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus told reporters after his side's Group B defeat in Yokohama.
"We're creeping a little bit closer in challenging them, but they will have different tactical challenges from northern hemisphere teams."
Erasmus added: "We have to give all credit to New Zealand, when we had territorial and scoreboard pressure, they showed experience, they're a world-class team.
"It's a combination of them putting pressure on us and us not handling the pressure well. They were just good on their day.
"They didn't ruffle our defence, but they scored from our mistakes. They know how to ramp up the pressure as soon as they get on the scoreboard."
'Group of Death'
In Tokyo, France and Argentina served up a seesaw encounter, with the Les Bleus edging out the Pumas 23-21 in pulsating Group C encounter.
France led 20-3 at the break thanks to tries from Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont and 10 points from flyhalf Romain Ntamack.
But tries from Petti Pagadizabal and Julian Montoya, a Nicolas Sanchez conversion and two penalties from Benjamin Urdapilleta put Argentina ahead with 12 minutes to play.
Camille Lopez's drop goal restored France's lead, though Argentina might have won the match late on, only for Emiliano Boffelli to miss a last-minute penalty.
"I thought the game was finished, I thought we'd lost the game," said France captain Guilhem Guirado, referring to the award of that late penalty to Argentina.
"You dream of winning with a last-minute kick," said Boffelli. "We'd killed ourselves for 80 minutes but we got that one opportunity. Obviously a lot of things went through my mind and I didn't want to have any regrets -- now I just want to forget it."
With England also in this World Cup section, it's been dubbed the "Group of Death."
In Sapporo, Fiji gave Australia a scare, at one stage leading the Wallabies 21-12 early in the second half in their Group D game.
Australia hooker Tolu Latu then scored two tries in five minutes, with Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete also going over as the Wallabies secured a 39-21 win.
"We are not looking for perfection, we got tested, and they got us a bit on the hop early on, came out with a lot of aggression, but once we got our rhythm and flow we able to get back in the contest," said Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
"No one intends to go behind and play loose. They came at us on the ground too. I thought they were able to get away with a lot there. Early on their imposed themselves on us and we had to tighten up."
Cheika said he "really didn't see" a tackle by Reece Hodge -- a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge -- that prevented Peceli Yato from scoring a try in the 26th minute.
Yato then failed a head injury assessment and had to be replaced.
South African sports scientist Ross Tucker, who helped devise the "pathway" check list to help referees decide how to sanction such tackles, tweeted Hodge should have been sent off.
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