The History of the Rugby World Cup
PA Sport's Andrew Baldock
August 10, 2007

The Rugby World Cup has grown into arguably the planet's third biggest sporting event behind its soccer equivalent and the Olympic Games.

That represents a remarkable rise for a tournament which began 20 years ago engulfed by apathy and uncertainty.

From a somewhat low-key 16-team competition hosted by New Zealand and Australia in 1987, it has become the focal point of a four-year Test match cycle throughout both hemispheres.

This year's tournament in France will see England attempting history, given that no world champion has successfully defended the Webb Ellis Trophy, while Australia are chasing an unprecedented third world crown and favourites New Zealand their first since 1987.

Here, PA Sport rugby union correspondent Andrew Baldock looks back on Rugby World Cup's five previous tournaments.


New Zealand set the tone for a tournament they would dominate by demolishing Italy 70-6 in the inaugural World Cup game played at a half-empty Eden Park in Auckland.

Wing John Kirwan's astounding 70-metre solo try remains one of the World Cup's great moments, but the pool stages hardly came alive elsewhere, although England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland all progressed.

The Scots bowed out at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, where Grant Fox kicked 22 points in a 30-3 victory for the All Blacks, while tries from Robert Jones, John Devereux and Gareth Roberts eased Wales past a poor England outfit, with Ireland falling to Australia and France crushing Fiji.

The semi-finals - played in Australia - could hardly have proved more contrasting affairs. New Zealand smashed Wales 49-6, yet all the drama was reserved for Sydney's Concord Oval where a dramatic late Serge Blanco try decided an epic encounter and accounted for the Wallabies.

Wales secured third place by pipping Australia in Rotorua, but the final went emphatically to form as David Kirk's All Blacks defeated France 29-9 back at Eden Park, the ground where it all began four weeks earlier.

Competing countries: Australia, England, USA, Japan, Ireland, Wales, Canada, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Italy, Argentina, France, Scotland, Romania, Zimbabwe.

Winners - New Zealand, 2nd - France, 3rd - Wales, 4th - Australia.


England arrived at the 1991 tournament captained by Will Carling and managed by Geoff Cooke. Expectations were high, despite an opening game defeat against New Zealand at Twickenham, and they subsequently moved into the quarter-finals.

The pool stage though was notable for a shambolic Welsh squad's demise. Stunned 16-13 by Western Samoa at Cardiff Arms Park before losing 38-3 to Australia, they failed to reach the last eight.

Samoan interest ended at the quarter-final stage, where Gavin Hastings continued his rich vein of form by starring in Scotland's 28-6 triumph at Murrayfield. England rocked France 19-10 in Paris, while Michael Lynagh's late try broke Irish hearts at Lansdowne Road and New Zealand sank Canada amid the torrential rain of Lille.

England's mighty victory over France saw them travel confidently to Edinburgh, but it took a Rob Andrew drop-goal in fading light to edge them home 9-6, with the tournament's dominant figure - Wallabies wing David Campese - scoring a try during Australia's 16-6 defeat of New Zealand.

More than 60,000 packed Twickenham for the final, but England's switch of tactics from a proven match-winning forward game to a more expansive style proved costly, with prop Tony Daly scoring the game's solitary try as Australia were crowned world champions.

Competing countries: New Zealand, England, USA, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Zimbabwe, Wales, Australia, Western Samoa, Argentina, France, Romania, Canada, Fiji.

Winners - Australia, 2nd - England, 3rd - New Zealand, 4th - Scotland.


South Africa, absent from the first two World Cup tournaments, were magnificent hosts in 1995. And how the team delivered too, rising above huge pressure and expectancy levels to land the title.

They set the tone during a thrilling opening game at Newlands in Cape Town, beating Australia, but something was also stirring elsewhere as New Zealand's 6ft 5in wing Jonah Lomu began rampaging through Pool C, with Wales once again failing to reach the quarter-finals.

Sadly, it was all overshadowed by events at Rustenburg, when a tackle in the sixth minute of the game between Ivory Coast and Tonga left Ivory Coast wing Max Brito paralysed.

South Africa, riding the crest of a wave, accounted for Western Samoa in the quarter-finals, with Lomu among five try-scorers as New Zealand despatched Scotland and a late Rob Andrew drop-goal saw England avenge their 1991 final defeat by knocking out Australia.

English hopes were blown away by four-try Lomu in Cape Town a week later though as New Zealand eased into the final against South Africa, compelling 19-15 conquerors of France at a rain-lashed King's Park, Durban.

But even Lomu met his match in the Johannesburg final, man-marked out of the game by Springboks wing James Small. South Africa ultimately prevailed 15-12 after extra-time courtesy of fly-half Joel Stransky's second drop-goal.

Competing countries: South Africa, Australia, Canada, Romania, England, Argentina, Western Samoa, Italy, Wales, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, France, Scotland, Tonga, Ivory Coast.

Winners - South Africa, 2nd - New Zealand, 3rd - France, 4th - England.


Wales, and their splendid new Millennium Stadium, played host to the 1999 World Cup, but in truth it was a tournament that never took off despite an astonishing semi-final display by France against New Zealand.

The pool stages featured tournament bows for minnows Spain, Uruguay and Namibia, while England's hopes were effectively derailed by a Twickenham defeat against the All Blacks that forced them into a midweek quarter-final play-off against Fiji.

Just four days after winning that game, they were back in action, tackling reigning champions South Africa in Paris, where a world Test record five Jannie de Beer drop-goals booted them into oblivion.

Ireland, meanwhile, departed at the play-off stage, beaten by Argentina, but the other three quarter-finals followed a predictable pattern as Australia, France and New Zealand all progressed.

Lomu had again been in inspired form, but the All Blacks met their match against France, who won an unforgettable Twickenham encounter 43-31, the victory coming just 24 hours after a similarly gripping affair on the same ground ended with Australia toppling South Africa.

In contrast, the final between Australia and France was a hugely disappointing occasion, with the Wallabies easing home 35-12 to land their second Webb Ellis Trophy.

Competing countries: Scotland, South Africa, Uruguay, Spain, New Zealand, England, Italy, Tonga, France, Fiji, Canada, Namibia, Wales, Samoa, Japan, Argentina, Ireland, Australia, USA, Romania.

Winners - Australia, 2nd - France, 3rd - South Africa, 4th - New Zealand.


England supremo Clive Woodward wanted his squad to arrive in Australia as the world-ranked top team and best prepared group of players. Both goals were achieved - and global domination duly accomplished.

England's critical pool game was against South Africa in Perth, and a hard-fought success effectively meant they avoided the All Blacks and Australia until much later in the tournament. Wales, Ireland and Scotland also progressed.

Wales then gave England a monumental quarter-final fright in Brisbane, leading impressively at half-time before substitute Mike Catt inspired a fightback and subsequent 28-17 win, while the other three games also went to form, with New Zealand beating South Africa, Australia seeing off Scotland and France knocking out Ireland.

The prospect of an England versus New Zealand final was gathering momentum, but that theory went out of the window when a Stirling Mortlock interception try helped Australia down the All Blacks before England's forwards mauled France in pouring rain at Sydney's Telstra Stadium.

The final proved a nail-biting affair, and it was no surprise when the game moved into extra-time as both sides fought to a standstill. But with just seconds remaining, England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson dropped a match-winning goal, giving English rugby its greatest moment.

Competing countries: Australia, Argentina, Ireland, Romania, Namibia, France, Scotland, Fiji, USA, Japan, England, South Africa, Samoa, Uruguay, Georgia, New Zealand, Wales, Italy, Canada, Tonga.

Winners - England, 2nd - Australia, 3rd - New Zealand, 4th - France.

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