The magic number
September 30, 2011
Chester Williams in rampaging form for the Springboks © Getty Images
The blue touch paper has been lit on the race for the title of top try-scorer at the 2011 World Cup with England's Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto, Wales' Scott Williams and Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper all bagging a hat-trick in their last outing.
However, hat-tricks are nothing new when it comes to the World Cup - a fact celebrated by this week's Scrum Sevens.
Ashley Billington currently holds the world record for tries scored in one match with an incredible ten while playing at fullback for Hong Kong against Singapore in a Rugby World Cup qualifier in 1994. However, Marc Ellis hold top spot for the number of tries scored in one World Cup match - a feat he achieved against Japan during the group stage of the 1995 tournament.
Few gave the Asian side a chance against the rampaging All Blacks with the Kiwis already having impressed during the tournament on their way to a 43-19 win over Ireland and a 34-9 victory over Wales. And the Kiwis made quick work of Japan scoring an incredible 21 tries - a then tournament record later surpassed by Australia in thier clash against Namibia in 2003. Appearing in the centres, Ellis was joined on the scoreboard by tow other hat-trick heroes - Eric Rush and Jeff Wilson. While they managed to cross for three it was Ellis who stole the show and effectively tied up the title for top try-scorer with six tries. He eventually had to share the mantle with the legendary Jonah Lomu but six tries in one match is an impressive feat in itself - let alone at a World Cup.
Performing with the weight of a nation on your shoulders is no mean feat - just ask France in 2007 and Australia in 2003. But in 1995, the Springboks delivered. Shouldering much of the expectation was the electric Chester Williams. An injury doubt going into the tournament, Williams made his bow against Samoa in the quarter-finals thanks largely to Pieter Hendricks' suspension in the wake of the 'Battle of Boet Erasmus'.
Williams made the most of his opportunity and ended up being one of South Africa's players of the tournament - earning himself the nickname 'The Black Pearl' in the process. With four tries against the physical and abrasive Western Samoans - who had qualified from a pool which included England, Argentina and Italy - Williams propelled the Springboks into the semi-finals where they defeated France to book a place in what would be an historic final. To this day, South Africans look back at Williams' four tries as a seminal moment in their sporting and political history.
The All Blacks legend, who was sadly readmitted to hospital this week, produced one of the most memorable and iconic performances against England in the semi-finals of the 1995 tournament. The Kiwis had made light work of Scotland in the quarter-finals to set up a clash with England who had to rely on a late Rob Andrew drop-goal to despatch Australia in their last eight encounter.
In breathtaking fashion, Lomu made light work of the English defence with his first try - a barnstorming effort that left his rivals in his wake. His try-scoring exploits did not end there as he went on to score a further three tries and in doing so notch one of only two hat-tricks he managed during a 63-Test career. Lomu finished the World Cup joint top-scorer with the aforementioned Ellis but it not even their combined efforts were enough to deny South Africa the title.
Scoring three tries is an impressive feat - scoring four tries even more so. Scoring four tries as a hooker in a World Cup match is frankly incredible. In doing so, Wood - following in the footsteps of fellow Irishman Brian Robinson eight years previous - became the second forward to net such an impressive tally during a game at the sport's premier tournament. Wood had an eye for the try-line and even managed to find himself on the end of a kick and chase for one of his four scores.
Wood finished his 58-Test career with 15 tries to his name and is currently the highest scoring hooker in international Test history. Despite Wood's best efforts, Ireland found themselves despatched from the 1999 tournament at the quarter-final play-off stage.
The 2003 World Cup will be remembered for the iconic moment involving a certain Mr Wilkinson but no doubt Lewsey will remember England's rout of Uruguay with equal fondness. The then Wasps fullback-come-wing managed to run in a personal tally of five tries against the minnows - with England eventually running out 111-13 winners. Australia's Chris Latham managed the same feat just eight days earlier and to date the duo are the only players to have managed the feat in a World Cup match.
The rest of the tournament is the stuff of legend for England and Lewsey played a key part with a starting role in the semi-final against France and the final against the Wallabies. And Lewsey's try-scoring exploits in the World Cup did not end there after as he scored the decisive score against France in the 2007 tournament's semi-final.
The build up to the 2007 World Cup had a familiar feel, the All Blacks would win and the other teams who had a small chance of upsetting the apple cart would have to rely on the Kiwis 'choking.' Of course the Kiwis did come up short again but such a diagnosis detracts from the brilliance of Jake White's Springboks. Central, or perhaps on the outskirts position wise, to his plans was the flying winger Bryan Habana. Finishing the tournament as top try-scorer on eight tries, Habana's sole international hat-trick - which ended up being four tries in 80 minutes - came against Samoa in their opening clash.
The eventual 59-7 result underlined the Boks' dominance - a performance which should not be sniffed at with the Samoans including the likes of Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Alex Tuilagi and David Lemi in their ranks - and provided the kick-start to what would be a glory-packed campaign.
Samoa had an unbelievable run-up to their 2011 World Cup campaign that included a stunning 32-23 victory over Australia in Sydney. Tuilagi made his mark on the Wallabies scoring a try and there was an increasing trend of thought that Samoa could and potentially would gatecrash Pool D in the 2011 showpiece and send the likes of South Africa and Wales packing in the pool stages.
In their opening clash against Namibia, Tuilagi crossed for a hat-trick and in doing so re-asserted reputation as one of the world's premier wingers. Having been recently linked with a move to Super Rugby, Tuilagi's stock looks set to rise yet further.
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