- Ask Steven Rugby
The World Cup debutantsJohn GriffithsJuly 16, 2014
When was the last time there was a "new" qualifier for RWC Finals tournaments? David John, Wales
For the inaugural RWC staged in Australia and New Zealand in 1987 there were 16 invited nations, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Tonga, Fiji, Canada, United States, Japan, Romania, Italy, Argentina and Zimbabwe joining the hosts.
Qualifying events were staged for the first time before the 1991 tournament in Britain, Ireland and France, the only new entrants from that process being Western Samoa (at Tonga's expense). The Islanders had an immediate impact, beating Wales at Cardiff in the pool stages and reaching the quarter-finals where they were beaten by Scotland.
With South Africa returning to the international rugby fold post-apartheid, they were host nation (and new entrants) for the 1995 tournament which they won in Johannesburg, beating New Zealand in extra time. That event also saw Ivory Coast take part for the only time to date, having displaced Zimbabwe as the African continent qualifiers, while Tonga returned as Pacific qualifiers ahead of Fiji. The United States failed to reach the tournament Finals that year.
A more structured qualifying process for the event in Britain, Ireland and France in 1999 resulted in three new nations taking part. It was the first time that the pool stages comprised five groups of four, with new boys Uruguay and Spain competing in the same pool based in Scotland, and Namibia joining as African qualifiers to play in the French-based pool.
Every subsequent RWC tournament has also featured 20 nations. Georgia entered the lists in Australia in 2003 (displacing Spain), Portugal made their debut in France in 2007 (when Uruguay missed out in the qualifying process) and Russia made the Finals for the first time in New Zealand in 2011 (when Portugal failed to qualify).
John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.