History of the Rugby World Cup

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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, 7 others have been held at four-year intervals.[1] The 2015 tournament was won by New Zealand, the cup was held from the 19th of September 2015 till 31st of October 2015. It was held in England and Wales.

International competition prior to the World Cup[edit]

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 1934 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.

Early attempts[edit]

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.[2] 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.[2]

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.[2]

Early 1980s[edit]

In 1982, Neil Durden-Smith suggested that the world cup should be held in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s.[2] 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.[2] New Zealand joined the campaign, putting forth their own proposal in March of the next year.[2] 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.[2]

The match day programme/poster for the 1987 final between France and the All Blacks.

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.[3] South Africa's vote saw England, followed by Wales, change to be in favour as well.

The first tournament[edit]

The 1987 Rugby 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 one of the semi-finals with New Zealand playing Wales in the other. New Zealand became the first ever Rugby World Cup Champions, defeating France 29 points to 9 at Eden Park in Auckland.


Millennium Stadium

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. The All Blacks were mysteriously struck down with food poisoning just days before the final with many All Blacks still affected on the day of the final. 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[edit]

England celebrates in London.

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.[4]

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.

The 2015 tournament was hosted by England. The tournament was won by New Zealand, who defeated Australia 34-17 to become the first nation to successfully defend their World Champion title and the first nation to win the tournament three times.

The 2019 tournament will be hosted in Japan, with the Yokohoma Stadium holding the final.


Year Host Final venue Teams Participants
in Qualifying
Winner Runner-up
1987 Australia & New Zealand Eden Park 16 Invitation 32  New Zealand  France
1991 Britain
Twickenham 16 32 32  Australia  England
1995 South Africa Ellis Park 16 52 32  South Africa  New Zealand
1999 Wales Millennium Stadium 20 65 41  Australia  France
2003 Australia Telstra Stadium 20 80 48  England  Australia
2007 France Stade de France 20 91 48  South Africa  England
2011 New Zealand Eden Park 20 93 48  New Zealand  France
2015 England Twickenham 20 96 48  New Zealand  Australia
2019 Japan Yokohoma Stadium 20 48 [to be determined] [to be determined]

Overall team performance records[edit]

The following table shows the overall performance records of the teams from the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship, plus the teams that made the knock-out stages (the quarter-finals) in at least one of the World Cups played so far. If they played in the tournament, the entries in the table show the stage at which they were knocked out, or whether they won the tournament. The second part of the table shows the number of times a team has reached that stage of the competition. For a more comprehensive table of the performance records of all the teams over the history of the World Cup, see National team appearances in the Rugby World Cup. Only Romania and Italy have played in all 7 world cups without getting past the group stages. For the all-time table of national teams that have featured in the Rugby World Cup by a number of criteria including matches, wins, losses, draws, total points for, total points against, etc, see Rugby World Cup Overall Record.

Team 1987 1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011 2015 Quarter-
 New Zealand W SF F SF SF QF W W 8 7 4
 Australia SF W QF W F QF SF F 8 6 4
 South Africa(1) DNP DNP W SF QF W QF SF 3 2 2
 England QF F SF QF W F QF Group 3 1 3
 France F QF SF F SF SF F QF 6 3 3
 Scotland QF SF QF QF QF QF Group QF 1 0 0
 Ireland QF QF QF QF Play-Off QF Group QF QF 0 0 0
 Wales SF Group Group QF QF Group SF QF 3 2 0
 Argentina Group Group Group QF Group SF QF SF 2 2 0
 Samoa(2) DNP QF QF QF Play-Off Group Group Group Group 2 0 0
 Fiji(3) QF Group DNQ QF Play-Off Group QF Group Group 2 0 0
 Canada Group QF Group Group Group Group Group Group 1 0 0
 Italy Group Group Group Group Group Group Group Group 0 0 0

Defending champions[edit]

Only New Zealand, in 2015, has 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.

Knockout statistics[edit]

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 2015 lost to
 New Zealand W  Australia  South Africa  France  Australia  France W W
 Australia  France W  England W  England  England  New Zealand  New Zealand
 England  Wales  Australia  New Zealand  South Africa W  South Africa  France N/A
 South Africa(1) DNP DNP W  Australia  New Zealand W  Australia  New Zealand
 France  New Zealand  England  South Africa  Australia  England  England  New Zealand  New Zealand
 Scotland  New Zealand  England  New Zealand  New Zealand  Australia  Argentina N/A  Australia
 Ireland  Australia  Australia  France  Argentina(4)  France N/A  Wales  Argentina
 Wales  New Zealand N/A N/A  Australia  England N/A  France  South Africa
 Samoa(2) DNP  Scotland  South Africa  Scotland(4) N/A N/A N/A N/A
 Argentina N/A N/A N/A  France N/A  South Africa  New Zealand  Australia
 Fiji(3)  France N/A DNQ  England(4) N/A  South Africa N/A N/A
 Canada N/A  New Zealand N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1 Did not compete in 1987 and 1991 because of a sports boycott on South Africa due to Apartheid.
2 Known as Western Samoa until 1997. Not invited to play in the 1987 World Cup.
3 Did not qualify for the 1995 World Cup.
4 Knocked out in playoff to decide quarter-finals line-up.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of the World Cup". scrum.com. Archived from the original on 8 May 2006. Retrieved 10 August 2006. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "The History of RWC.". worldcupweb.com. Retrieved 29 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "World Cup History". CNN. 1999-09-27. Retrieved 7 May 2006. 
  4. ^ "England honours World Cup stars". BBC. 2003-12-09. Retrieved 24 August 2006. 

External links[edit]