? A Guide to the Rugby World Cup22nd June 2020 |
The first Rugby World Cup, held in 1987, was a relatively low key affair even for diehards of the sport, but from that rough and ready start the tournament has rapidly expanded in stature. Some reports even claim that it is the third largest sporting event on the planet.
The teams compete for William Webb Ellis Trophy which honours the man who first created the game when picking up a football at Rugby School in England during the 19th century.
Let’s take a look at past tournaments before peering ahead to the next tournament in France in 2023.
? 1987 winner – New Zealand Flag
New Zealand and Australia shared the hosting duties and it seemed destined they would contest the final, only for the French to inflict defeat on the Wallabies in a Sydney semi-final. However, they were no match for the awesome All Blacks in the final, with the guile of David Kirk, Grant Fox and John Kirwan in the backs matched by the fury of Sean Fitzpatrick, Wayne Shelford and Michael Jones in the pack.
? 1991 winner – Australia
A strong, if one-dimensional, England lost the opening game at Twickenham to the holders New Zealand, but tempestuous knockout stage wins against France in Paris and Scotland in Edinburgh set up a battle against old foes Australia in the final, back in London. The dynamic Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh and David Campese, too much for the All Blacks in last four, then crushed English hopes in the final.
? 1995 winner – South Africa
Not only a first RWC for South Africa, but it was on home soil and they reached the final. They were up against a ferocious New Zealand team that had numerically destroyed Japan 145-17 and emotionally wrecked England in the last four, with giant wing Jonah Lomu quite literally trampling all over them. But in a dour, try-less final the home team, watched by President Nelson Mandela, claimed an emotional win.
? 1999 winner – Australia
The tournament returned to Europe, but it was a poor event for the home teams and only the French made the last four where they once again peaked prematurely, albeit in sensational style when turning a half-time deficit into glorious victory over the All Blacks. Australia emerged triumphant, backing up a hard-fought semi-final defeat of South Africa with a comfortable dispatch of the French in Cardiff.
? 2003 winner – England
The first (and only) northern hemisphere winners, England were a team that utilised the resilience of Johnny Wilkinson and the leaderships skills of Martin Johnson. In truth, the team had peaked a year before the final against hosts Australia, but their determination was typified by a disciplined drive into opposition territory, earning a drop goal attempt in the final moments of extra time which Wilkinson converted.
? 2007 winner – South Africa
France hosted on its own for the first time and were duly humiliated in the opening game by a courageous Argentine team which also defeated Ireland and Scotland on the way to the semi-finals. They were stopped in their tracks by South Africa, who then repeated the 1995 success with another grim final win, this time against England. Not even their electric superstar winger Bryan Habana could cross the line.
? 2011 winner – New Zealand
Another replay, in this case of New Zealand winning on home soil as in 1987. But, having destroyed all opposition throughout the tournament, they laboured in the final against a French team that had lost two group matches before staging a player coup. The All Blacks finished the final with their fourth choice fly half on the ground after a rash of injuries in that key position and it contributed to the 8-7 scoreline.
? 2015 winner – New Zealand
A return to England and there were two massive shocks in the group stages. First, the outlandish defeat of South Africa by Japan, and then the home team’s failure to reach the knockout games. Thereafter, the southern hemisphere dominated, filling all four semi-final places, before New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter made up for missing the 2011 final with a dominant performance in a 34-17 defeat of Australia.
? 2019 winner – South Africa
A first venture beyond rugby’s heartlands and, despite disruption caused by typhoons, Japan provided a carnival of the sport. The home team thrilled everyone by topping their group, before England scuppered Australia in the last eight and New Zealand in the last four. However they couldn’t make it three in a row, falling to a South Africa side, astutely and inspirationally captained by Siya Kolisi, in the final.
Rugby World Cup – Significance
The development since that initial tournament in the mid-1980s is extraordinary. In 1987 just over 600,000 people attended the games, but by 2015 that number had reached nearly 2.5 million.
Worldwide viewing figures repeat the trend, rising from a reported 300 million in 1987 to over three billion. Even given the fact that such numbers tend to be doubted by independent sources, the reality is that the tournament has strong reach and enormous commercial strength.
It has also increased in competitiveness despite early struggles on that front. Argentina has reached the semi-final stage in two tournaments, Samoa twice humiliated Wales in Cardiff and Japan go from strength to strength.
Rugby World Cup 2023
The next event will be staged in France alone, with the final set for the Stade de France, Paris on 21st October. The tournament starts on 8th September, will feature 20 teams and, adding extra significance, it falls on the 200th anniversary of Webb Ellis inventing the sport by picking up that ball.
Article Written by Matt Cooper
Matt Cooper is a sports journalist who has covered golf, rugby, football and athletics since 2009. He has worked for Sky Sports, ESPN, The Planet Sport Network, Forbes and Sporting Life among many others writing interviews, features, previews and reports from events around the world. Find him on twitter here