May 22 down the years
World Cup starts with an All Blacks romp
The All Blacks pile forward on their way to a resounding win in the World Cup's first game © Getty Images

The birth of a new era as the inaugural Rugby World Cup kicked-off with New Zealand trouncing Italy 70-6 at Eden Park, Auckland. When Italy scored to trail 17-6 a minute into the second half it appeared the odds-on favourites were in for a tough day but then rattled off 53 unanswered points to record the then biggest winning margin in international rugby.

There were 51,326 present to see an all-French affair when Murrayfield staged its first Heineken Cup final, Toulouse beating Stade Francais 18-12 after extra time. Stade led for virtually the entire match before a last-minute penalty from Frederic Michalak drew the teams level at 12-12 and took the game into extra time. Toulouse went on to win after a further penalty and drop-goal from Michalak secured an 18-12 triumph to cue dramatic celebrations including the Toulouse coach Guy Noves being led away by stewards after he became involved in an altercation while climbing a fence to celebrate with his family.

Another all-French Heineken Cup final saw Toulouse secure their fourth title when they beat Biarritz in front of 78,962 at the Stade de France. For Biarritz the future seemed rosy despite the loss and a playing budget of a mind-blowing £11.5 million indicated they were serious players. But the wheels came off soon after and in 2013-14 they were relegated from the Top 14. "The final itself was of high drama but limited quality and reached a taut conclusion when Karmichael Hunt's breakaway try, converted by Valentin Courrent, reduced the margin to its eventual two points with seven minutes left," wrote the Daily Mail. "Until then Toulouse had been untrue to their reputation by accumulating points through penalties and drop-goals. Presumably they regard this as the way to win finals."

New Zealand played their first official match, beating a Wellington XV 9-0 before setting off on an inaugural tour to Australia. It was another 19 years before New Zealand's first Test against the Wallabies coming in 1903 at Sydney Football Stadium. The All Blacks won 22-3.

Otago, so often a thorn in the side to touring British/Irish teams, extended their fine record against visitors with a 14-9 defeat of the England tour side.

A good day for Italy as their Under-23s beat their England counterparts 12-7 in Padua in front of a vociferous 3000 crowd. England failed to cope with a second-half surge or the sweltering heat although Simon Halliday scored the only try of the match.

Tom Grace's Ireland team were beaten in New Zealand for the first time, losing narrowly 13-10 to Auckland at Eden Park.

A Test-strength French XV was held to a 10-10 draw by the USSR in Moscow.

Brothers Stephen Bachop (for Samoa) and Graeme Bachop (Japan) faced each other in a Test in the Epson Cup series in Osaka. Japan won a see-saw game 37-34, with former All Black and World Cup-finalist Jamie Joseph crossing for the Japanese.


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