History of the Rugby World Cup
The first Rugby World Cup was held in 1987, hosted by Australia and New Zealand who pushed for the tournament to be approved. Since the first tournament, there have been five others, at four-yearly intervals. The most recent tournament was hosted by France in September / October 2007, with the latest being held in New Zealand in September/October 2011.
International competition prior to the World Cup
Apart from regular test matches and touring sides, tournaments that resembled a world cup format – albeit not of its scale, but in terms of international nations competing, are competitions such as the Summer Olympics and the Home Nations Championship/Five Nations Championship.
Rugby union was played at the Summer Olympics on four occasions, 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924. Although these competitions did not involve full national sides, and usually only had three or four participating nations at any individual event. The International Championship/Five Nations has been played since 1883. It is one of the oldest international rugby tournaments, involving only European nations.
There are several stories that depict suggestions of staging a rugby union world cup before the 1980s. One of the earliest known pioneers was Harold Tolhurst, an Australian player who would later become a referee. It has been said that Tolhurst brought up the idea of such a tournament as early as the late 1950s. It has been said that in 1968, the International Rugby Board made it known that it did not want its unions to be a part of such a competition that resembled a world cup.
Similar ideas arose during the last years of the pre-WC era. Bill McLaughlin, who was the president of the Australian Rugby Union in 1979, suggested the idea of staging a World Cup in 1988, as the event would coincide with Australia's bicentenary celebrations.
In 1982, Neil Durden-Smith suggested that the world cup should be held in the United Kingdom in the mid 1980s. The IRB discussed the proposal in March 1983, but the concept did not go ahead. Another meeting was held in June 1983, where Australia put forth a proposal that would see them host the first event – if it should happen. New Zealand joined the campaign, putting forth their own proposal in March of the next year. The IRB went on to conduct a feasibility study – Australia and New Zealand joined forces to bid for the hosting of an inaugural World Cup.
A subsequent IRFB meeting was held in Paris in March 1985. It is known that originally, all four home nations were opposed to the idea, and the most vocal supporters were Australia, New Zealand and France. It is believed that South Africa's decision to vote in favour of the event was the turning point in the voting. South Africa voted in favour of the tournament going ahead, though they knew they would not be competing due to the sports boycott at the time. South Africa's vote saw England, followed by Wales, change to be in favour as well
The first tournament
The 1987 world cup was hosted by both Australia and New Zealand. 32 matches were played from over a period of 22 May to 20 June. The tournament featured one African nation, three American nations, one Asian nation, seven European nations and four Oceanic nations. One notable omission was the Springboks who were not competing due to the international sports boycott.
Seven places were automatically filled by the IRFB members, with invitations being sent out to fill remaining places. In total there were 16 nations in the competition. France played Australia in the semi-finals and New Zealand, Wales. New Zealand became the first ever Rugby World Cup Champions, defeating France 29 points to 9 at Eden Park in Auckland.
The 1991 Rugby World Cup was hosted by Great Britain, Ireland and France, with the tournament final to be played at the home of English rugby, Twickenham. For the first time, a qualifying tournament replaced the previously used invitation format. The qualifying tournament involved 32 teams. England qualified for the final by defeating Scotland at Murrayfield, with Australia joining them by defeating New Zealand the day after. Australia won the final, defeating England 12–6.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup was hosted by South Africa, and was the first time that all matches would be played in just a single country. It was the first time that South Africa participated in the tournament following the end of their international sports boycott due to the apartheid regime. South Africa won the tournament, defeating New Zealand 15–12 in the final. Joel Stransky kicked a drop-goal in extra time to grab the victory for South Africa. Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey and matching cap, famously presented the Webb Ellis Cup to South African captain Francois Pienaar. The tournament also saw the emergence of rugby's first global superstar, All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu. He and Marc Ellis finished the tournament as the top try scorers.
The 1999 Rugby World Cup was hosted by Wales with matches played in England, France, Scotland and Ireland. There were further changes to the rules of automatic qualification for this tournament, where only the top three places from 1995, along with the host nation, automatically qualified.
Sixty-five rugby nations participated in qualifying competitions for the 1999 tournament, and the participating nations increased from 16 to 20. France's shock 43–31 semifinal win over the All Blacks is regarded as one of the biggest upsets and also one of the best games in the history of the World Cup. Australia defeated France in the final 35–12. They therefore became the first nation to win the World Cup twice.
2000 – present
The 2003 World Cup was hosted by Australia. It was originally to be co-hosted with New Zealand, but disagreements over scheduling and signage at venues led to Australia going it alone. England won the tournament, defeating Australia in the final 20 points to 17. With 21 seconds left before sudden death England's Jonny Wilkinson landed a drop goal to win the match. England became the first northern hemisphere nation to win a Rugby World Cup. Upon returning home, the English side was greeted by an estimated 750,000 people at a street parade celebrating their victory.
The 2007 World Cup was held in France, with matches also played in Wales and Scotland. The tournament was won by South Africa, who defeated England 15–6 in the final to become World Champions for the second time. Blowouts in scores in pool matches against minnow nations changed into a finals series dominated by defence. This tournament was notable for Argentina becoming the first team from outside the Six Nations and Tri-Nations to reach the semifinals.
The 2011 tournament was hosted by New Zealand: it saw a repeat of the 1987 World Cup finale standings, as Australia took on Wales in the Bronze final and won 21-18, while New Zealand, by defeating France 8-7 in the final, became the first nation to win on home soil twice.
|Year||Host||Final venue||Teams||Qualifying participants||Matches played||Winner||Runner-up|
|Eden Park||16||Invitation||32||New Zealand||France|
|1995||South Africa||Ellis Park||16||52||32||South Africa||New Zealand|
|2007||France||Stade de France||20||91||48||South Africa||England|
|2011||New Zealand||Eden Park||20||93||48||New Zealand||France|
No team has ever successfully defended their title in the World Cup. The stage at which the defending champions were knocked out has been: 1991 – SF – New Zealand knocked out by Australia; 1995 – QF – Australia knocked out by England; 1999 – SF – South Africa knocked out by Australia; 2003 – F – Australia knocked out by England; 2007 – F – England knocked out by South Africa; 2011 - QF - South Africa knocked out by Australia. Australia's loss in the quarter-finals in 1995, and South Africa's loss in the quarter-finals in 2011 are the worst performances by the defending champions.
For the teams that made the knock-out stages (quarter-finals) of the World Cup, the following table shows which team knocked them out of the competition, unless they won. England have knocked out both Australia and France three times each, while New Zealand have knocked out Scotland three times.
|Team||1987 lost to||1991 lost to||1995 lost to||1999 lost to||2003 lost to||2007 lost to||2011 lost to|
|New Zealand||W||Australia||South Africa||France||Australia||France||W|
|England||Wales||Australia||New Zealand||South Africa||W||South Africa||France|
|South Africa(1)||DNP||DNP||W||Australia||New Zealand||W||Australia|
|France||New Zealand||England||South Africa||Australia||England||England||New Zealand|
|Scotland||New Zealand||England||New Zealand||New Zealand||Australia||Argentina||N/A|
|Argentina||N/A||N/A||N/A||France||N/A||South Africa||New Zealand|