There’s talk at this Rugby World Cup of a New Zealand three-peat, but if England or Wales were to silence it – at least dispute it to the bitter end – the tournament as a whole could benefit. Is it so far-fetched to picture a northern hemisphere winner as England face the All Blacks and Wales take on South Africa this weekend? No, because of the fluid nature of modern sport and this configuration of semi-finalists. And most of all, timing. Strange though it seems to cast mainstays of rugby history as overnight successes, years of wasted potential is being tapped by Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland, leading lights of the age of the travelling supercoach. There are solid grounds to predict and enjoy another All Blacks procession. The most seamlessly all-court team, the Kiwis, liberated from their World Cup complex in 2011, had their dip between tournaments. Switching the world’s best player, Beauden Barrett, to full back has worked out stunningly, accommodating a new fly half in Richie Mo’unga whose composure and rugby intelligence, for a guy with 15 caps, is remarkable. Around him are 2015 and even 2011 survivors who know all about the rhythms of this final fortnight, about tapering, staying sane and players taking ownership. And the gas, oh the gas. But be careful what you wish for. Union is not yet the truly global game it would like to be, despite steps towards that these past six weeks. It has borrowed much from rugby league, but it wouldn’t want its World Cup: the Kangaroos’ domain, which the rest just decorate. Eddie Jones says all the pressure is on New Zealand to beat his English side A Boks-Blacks final would not only be a pool B rematch but reprise rugby’s classic heavyweight title bout across eras. New Zealand’s record against most other countries, meanwhile, is as near as you get to a sure thing. Given the all-southern hemisphere semi-finals of 2015, and southern victories in the 2007 and 2011 finals over Six Nations opponents with shambolic backstories, it is about time the Europeans added to England’s anomalous-looking 2003 triumph. One day we may wish on Japan and the Pacific islanders to really shake things up, but for now the case for a little diversity is English and Welsh. England have the make-up of a squad whose time has come. It took Jones, their coach, a while to get here after some boom and bust, yet this has been building since 2012’s revamp of personnel. The kids who became the first to regularly eclipse New Zealand at under-20 level are thriving in Japan – granted, four of them, including George Ford and Owen Farrell, lost 33-22 to a side containing five current All Blacks in the 2011 world under-20 final, a certain Beauden Barrett scoring the decisive try. But just as an England of lost heads and botched selection calls flopped at a World Cup they hosted in 1999 before arriving, transformed, in 2003, this lot’s painful failure at their home edition in 2015 helped make them what they are now. It helps that most of their best contend regularly for the world’s toughest annual knockout comp, the European Cup. Ludicrous though it would be to present Twickenham’s finest as the neutrals’ choice, they are not the insult to the eyes they once were, even with a pack capable of stopping New Zealand’s backs at source. The cosmopolitan domestic Premiership is reflected at last by a national team no longer limited to 10-man tedium. These slow-burning bolters from England and Wales are challenging the southern titans by morphing into them, thanks partly to Antipodean coaches and migrating players. Under qualification rules that pose a conundrum for the code, the Brits have only benefited. Jones grasped when taking the job that, with England’s playing numbers and financial muscle, coaches and administrators had only to get their act together to surpass the Sanzar trio. He has done his part. Can England’s new look midfield land them a second World Cup? South Africa may be the only team left who genuinely have New Zealand’s number, but they do not have Wales’. Four times on the bounce they have lost to them, and they must conjure a different outcome without their X-factor – their injured miniature wing Cheslin Kolbe, the Raging Mosquito. They have bulk upon bulk, yet Wales are built for bruising lungbusters and should have Jonathan Davies, so influential in big matches, back to fitness. Wales’ rise can be traced through central contracting of players, Gatland’s unerring judgment in selection and strategy, and stressing the core skills and fitness that enable players from the coach’s native New Zealand to win matches beyond the 80th minute if need be. They have momentum, having won their past 19 competitive matches compared with South Africa’s 12 from 19, New Zealand’s 15 and England’s 14. That may count for nought this week, which, for all except the Kiwis, is the unknown. There was no track record of World Cup-winning repeats, however, until the All Blacks did it in 2015. No previous Webb Ellis Cup-lifting team except Australia in 1991 – who had had a major overhaul – had reached even the semis four years earlier, which is handy for the three challengers here. It’s normally uncharted territory. Losing the final may be Wales’ limit if New Zealand get there too, but Gatland terrifies England; should both British nations progress, Wales will expect, and sticking a new name on “Bill” would be a victory for the world. The modern visions of white and red this weekend have none of the excuses of old. It is not so much hope as expectation driving them as they shoot for the stars, out to trump repeats with enchanting new stories.