World Cup 1999
Australia maintain southern hemisphere dominance
John Eales lifts the Web Ellis trophy
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World Cup No. 4
October 1 - November 6,1999
Host: Wales, with matches in England, Scotland, Ireland and France
The tournament, the first of the professional era, was expanded to 20 teams. Wales, as principal hosts were granted one of the four automatic qualification places - the first time that the big eight nations did not qualify automatically, the other three were granted to the top three teams from the previous World Cup in South Africa - South Africa, New Zealand and France. The 20 teams were divided into five groups of four teams, a scenario that meant a quarter-final play-off round involving the five runners-up and best third-placed team to decide who would join the pool winners in the last eight.
New Zealand were the firm favourites to add to their 1987 title, but after three previous World Cups without a team from the northern hemisphere lifting the Webb Ellis trophy it was widely anticipation that a side from the north could break the southern hemisphere strangle-hold on their home soil. The magnificent Millennium Stadium was built in Cardiff for the tournament and with its retractable roof it would be the first time rugby could be played 'indoors'.
The Millennium Stadium hosted the opening match where Wales defeated Argentina 23-18, with Colin Charvis scoring the first try of the tournament. South Africa cruised through to the quarter-finals winning all three of their matches in Pool one with Scotland also moving through to the play-offs. New Zealand and England advanced from Pool two - New Zealand beating England 30-16 in their meeting to take top spot and avoiding the quarter-final play-offs. France were largely untroubled in their progression to the quarter-finals along with Fiji. Wales, were upset by Samoa in their pool but still managed to avoid the repecharge where Argentina and Samoa were left to battle it out. Australia disposed of Ireland 23-3 in Pool five to advance while the Irish were left to take on Argentina in the quarter-final play-offs.
England, Scotland and Argentina - in an upset 28-24 victory over Ireland at Lens - qualified for the quarter-finals which was as far as the three teams went that year. New Zealand, yet to be challenged in the tournament dismissed Scotland with relative ease with a 30-18 victory. France were 47-26 winners over Argentina, while England failed to score a try in a 44-21 defeat by South Africa. Australia advanced to the semi-finals with a 24-9 victory over Wales. The tournament was turned on its head in the semi-finals when New Zealand, the favourites and dominant side of the World Cup, suffered a shock defeat by a resurgent France in the semi-finals. The All Blacks were leading 24-10 early in the second half but Les Bleus amassed 33 second-half points, 23 coming from French fly-half Christophe Lamaison. New Zealand looked shell-shocked as the French silenced the Kiwi contingent at Twickenham with a performance that defied the pre-match odds of 15/2 for the side who had finished with the wooden spoonists in the year's Five Nations Championship. The day before Australia were taken to extra time by the defending champions in their tryless semi-final. Australia were considered underdogs against South Africa having won only one of their past five encounters. Jannie de Beer put five penalties and a dropped goal on the board for the Springboks, while Matt Burke responded with seven penalties for the Australians. Australia were leading 21-18 eight minutes into injury time but de Beer tied the scores at 21-21 at the end of regular time. Stephen Larkham broke the stalemate in the third minute of the second period of extra time with his dropped goal that advanced the Wallabies into the final.
The Millennium Stadium hosted the final between two teams unfancied to contest the Webb Ellis trophy - although both had been in World Cup finals before. It was a match too far for France after their upset of the favourites in the semi-final. Australia kept France tryless but had to wait until the 66th minute themselves when Ben Tune touched down. Owen Finegan added a second try deep into injury time while Burke completed the two conversions and added a further three penalties throughout the second half for the Australians to triumph in a 35-12 victory - with all France's points coming from the boot of Lamaison.
Player of the tournament
After Jonah Lomu's devestating display in 1995, expectations were on the giant All Blacks winger to come back bigger and better. While he was the leading tryscorer at the tournament with eight, it was not yet known by the public that he was suffering from a debilitating kidney disease which sapped his strength and would cut his career short making this his second and final World Cup. Australia centre Tim Horan was named the of Player of the Tournament while Argentina's Gonzalo Quesada won the Golden Boot award having scored a total of 102 points in the tournament.
Frozen in time
A 13-minute period of sheer and utter demolition of New Zealand's lead by France will be for ever etched in World Cup history. After trailing 24-10 in the second half, the French set about to turn around the All Blacks' advantage with devastating effect. Lamaison was the hero for Les Bleus with a personal haul of 28 points, scoring a 'full house' with two dropped goals, three penalties, a try and four conversions. France moved to within two points of New Zealand's lead and Christophe Dominici took up a chip from Fabien Galthie to score and overtake the pre-tournament favourites. With Lamaison's conversion, France led 24-29. Richard Dourthe stretched their lead further when he gathered a Lamaison kick and crossed the try line. Lamaison again converted. Six minutes before the final whistle Philippe Bernat-Salles added France's fourth try of the game, when he beat New Zealand wing Jeff Wilson to the line. Lamaison again stepped up converted the try, taking his personal points haul to 28. France had managed to turned around a 17-10 deficit scoring 33 unanswered points before Wilson scored a consolatory try in the last minute of the game. The All Blacks were left stunned by a fighting display of Gallic flair and finesse that would haunt them for World Cups to come.