Rugby World Cup – it doesn’t get bigger than this.
The Rugby World Cup is the largest of all international rugby tournaments and in its short history has become one of the largest global sporting events on a par with the Olympics, the Tour de France and the World Cup for Football. Held every four years, it brings together the best teams in world rugby to compete for the Webb Ellis Cup.
The first Rugby World Cup tournament was jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 1987. Before the Rugby World Cup, international teams met on a regional basis in either the Six Nations for European teams or in informal events such as games between what would become the Tri Nations, now The Rugby Championship. Rugby was also on the Olympic schedule in the early 1900s, with the USA winning back to back golds in 1920 and 1924. Sevens rugby will return to the schedule in 2016 in Rio and America will be looking to make it three in a row.
The 1987 tournament was contested by 16 teams, the 8 IRB nations and 8 others by invitation. The current Rugby World Cup format allows for 12 places with automatic entry the top 3 teams form each of the pool groups from the previous event and the other 8 filled through qualification rounds which take place on a regional basis. Rugby World Cup qualifying rounds take place well in advance of the main event.
The Rugby World Cup 2011 format saw four pools of 5 teams fight it out in the group stages with the top two teams from each progressing to the knock out rounds. The groups were seeded so there was a mix of experience and skills in each and bonus points are awarded for number of tries and losing margins of less than seven points.
The quarter finals see the winners of each group face the runner up of another groups with the winner progressing to the semi final. Losers of the semis contest a ‘Bronze Final’ held the day before the Final.
The Rugby World Cup Trophy takes it name from the school boy William Webb Ellis, who is credited with inventing the game when he picked up the ball and ran during a football game. The Australians affectionately refer to the trophy as ‘Bill’. History is also reflected in the choice of rugby ball supplier with the original company, Gilbert providing the match balls.
Traditions such as the Haka, which the All Blacks perform before a match are also respected and have become a fan favourite, helping to build the tension before kick-off.
Rugby World Cup Results
Rugby World Cup 1987
The first tournament was won by joint hosts New Zealand which set a trend for southern hemisphere teams to claim the title and for host nations to reach the Finals. The All Blacks were a mighty force in the sport and many expected the Rugby World Cup to be another title they would win for years to come. It would be a long wait for the next Kiwi to get his hands on the Trophy.
Rugby World Cup 1991
1991 saw Australia beat hosts England in the Final and gain equal bragging rights with their New Zealand neighbours.
Rugby World Cup 1995
The end of apartheid in South Africa saw the sporting boycott lifted and the Springboks, who had been unable to participate in the first two Rugby World Cups, finally able to compete in the 1995 tournament which they also hosted. As famously depicted in the Clint Eastwood movie ‘Invictus’, winning meant more than sport, it was an opportunity to unite the country and it was an historic moment when President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok rugby jersey, handed the Webb Ellis trophy to South African captain Francois Pienaar after victory over the All Blacks in the final.
Rugby World Cup 2003
The 2003 final surely saw one of the most iconic moments in sport. The match between England and Australia had swung one way then the other. Full time couldn’t split the teams and it was only in the last few seconds of the match that the ball went to England No 10 Jonny Wilkinson who kicked a drop goal for world cup glory, and England won. It was the first and only time that a northern hemisphere team had won the title.
Rugby World Cup 2007
The England Rugby Team returned to the final in 2007 but were unable to claim back to back wins when they were beaten by the South Africans in Paris.
Rugby World Cup 2011
Hosts New Zealand were hot favourites going into the Rugby World Cup 2011 and as history showed, hosts often won the tournament and their form had been good but with only one win in 24 years could this be the All Blacks team to finally do it? Top names in the game like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw took to the field and the group stages went well but injury hit the squad, especially the no 10s as first Carter then Cruden and Slade had to withdraw.
In the final against a typically unpredictable French side the kicking duties fell to fourth choice Stephen Donald who had not even expected to be in the squad a few weeks before. The final was an edgy affair, with the hosts feeling the weight of expectation and France finally putting in a performance their quality of players suggested but it was Donald’s kick that saw the All Blacks lift the Rugby World Cup trophy. A nation which was still recovering from a recent earthquake finally had something to celebrate.
Future tournaments will be held in England in 2015 and in Japan in 2019.
|1987||Australia & NZ||New Zealand|
|1995||South Africa||South Africa|
|2011||New Zealand||New Zealand|
USA Rugby World Cup Record
While World Rugby Nations continue to dominate the top places in the Rugby World Cup the sport continues to grow and the emerging nations are starting to see some progress.
As the fastest growing team sport in the USA, rugby has come far in a very short time. The key document for growth, The USA Rugby Strategic Plan set goals for the Men’s National Team, the Eagles, to benchmark their development. On of which was to win a pool match in the 2011 tournament, which they did when they beat Russia.
While there is still a long way to go, the improvements of the Eagles at 15s on the international stage and the efforts of the USA Sevens squad in the HSBC Sevens and their qualification for the Olympics should bring the sport to the attention of a wider American audience, and so attract more elite athletes to this great sport.
Rugby World Cup Statistics
- South Africa, New Zealand, Australia – most tournament wins (2)
- England – only northern hemisphere winners
- South Africa, New Zealand – host nation winners
- New Zealand – most points scored in a match (145)
- Jonny Wilkinson, England – most overall points in the Rugby World Cup
- Grant Fox, New Zealand – most points in one competition (126)
- Jason Leonard, England – most Rugby World Cup appearances (22)
- Jonah Lomu, New Zealand – most tries in the Rugby World Cup (15)
- Jonah Lomu, New Zealand & Bryan Habana, South Africa – most tries in a tournament (8)