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Rugby World Cup

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"RWC" redirects here. For other uses, see RWC (disambiguation).
This article is about a rugby union competition. For the equivalent tournament in rugby league, see Rugby League World Cup.
Rugby World Cup
Current season or competition:
2015 Rugby World Cup
A gold cup with two handles inscribed with "The International Rugby Football Board" and "The Web Ellis Cup"
The Webb Ellis Cup is awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1987
Number of teams 20
Regions Worldwide (World Rugby)
Holders  New Zealand (2011)
Most titles  Australia (2 titles)
 New Zealand (2 titles)
 South Africa (2 titles)

The Rugby World Cup is a men's rugby union tournament contested every four years between the top international teams. The tournament was first held in 1987, when the tournament was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. The 2015 World Cup is currently underway in England. New Zealand is the current champion, having defeated France in the final of 2011 tournament in New Zealand.

The winners are awarded the William Webb Ellis Cup, named after William Webb Ellis, the Rugby School pupil who — according to a popular legend — invented rugby by picking up the ball during a football game. Three teams have won the trophy twice, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa; while England have won the tournament once.

The tournament is administered by World Rugby, the sport's international governing body. Sixteen teams were invited to participate in the inaugural tournament in 1987, however since 1999 twenty teams have taken part. Japan will host the next event in 2019.



Qualifying tournaments were introduced for the second tournament, where eight of the sixteen places were contested in a twenty-four-nation tournament.[1] The inaugural World Cup in 1987, did not involve any qualifying process; instead, the 16 places were automatically filled by seven eligible International Rugby Football Board (IRFB, now World Rugby) member nations, and the rest by invitation.[2]

The current format allows for twelve of the twenty available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the teams who finish third or better in the group (pool) stages of the previous tournament enter its successor (where they will be seeded).[3][4] The qualification system for the remaining eight places is region-based, with Europe and the Americas allocated two qualifying places each, Africa, Asia and Oceania one place each, with the last place determined by a play-off.[5]

The previous format, used in 2003 and 2007, allowed for eight of the twenty available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the eight quarter finalists of the previous tournament enter its successor. The remaining twelve positions were filled by continental qualifying tournaments.[6] Positions were filled by three teams from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, three from Europe and two from Oceania.[6] Another two places were allocated for repechage. The first repechage place was determined by a match between the runners-up from the Africa and Europe qualifying tournaments, with that winner then playing the Americas runner-up to determine the place.[7] The second repechage position was determined between the runners-up from the Asia and Oceania qualifiers.[7]


The 2015 tournament will involve twenty nations competing over six weeks.[4][8] There are two stages, a group and a knock-out. Nations are divided into four pools, A through to D, of five nations each.[8][9] The teams are seeded before the start of the tournament, with the seedings taken from the World Rankings in December 2012. The four highest-ranked teams are drawn into pools A to D. The next four highest-ranked teams are then drawn into pools A to D, followed by the next four. The remaining positions in each pool are filled by the qualifiers.[4][10]

Nations play four pool games, playing their respective pool members once each.[9] A bonus points system is used during pool play. If two or more teams are level on points, a system of criteria is used to determine the higher ranked; the sixth and final criterion decides the higher rank through the official World Rankings.[9]

The winner and runner-up of each pool enter the knock-out stage. The knock-out stage consists of quarter- and semi-finals, and then the final. The winner of each pool is placed against a runner-up of a different pool in a quarter-final. The winner of each quarter-final goes on to the semi-finals, and the respective winners proceed to the final. Losers of the semi-finals contest for third place, called the 'Bronze Final'. If a match in the knock-out stages ends in a draw, the winner is determined through extra time. If that fails, the match goes into sudden death and the next team to score any points is the winner. As a last resort, a kicking competition is used.[9]


A player holds a ball in front of two opposing groups of eight players. Each group is crouched and working together to push against the other team.
A scrum between Samoa (in blue) and Wales (in red) during the 2011 World Cup

Prior to the Rugby World Cup, there was no truly global rugby union competition, but there were a number of other tournaments. One of the oldest is the annual Six Nations Championship, which started in 1883 as the Home Nations Championship, a tournament between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It expanded to the Five Nations in 1910, when France joined the tournament. France did not participate from 1931 to 1939, during which period it reverted to a Home Nations championship. In 2000, Italy joined the competition, which became the Six Nations.[11]

Rugby union was also played at the Summer Olympic Games, first appearing at the 1900 Paris games and subsequently at London in 1908, Antwerp in 1920, and Paris again in 1924. France won the first gold medal, then Australasia, with the last two being won by the United States. However rugby union ceased to be on Olympic program after 1924.[12][13][a]

The idea of a Rugby World Cup had been suggested on numerous occasions going back to the 1950s, but met with opposition from most unions in the IRFB.[14] The idea resurfaced several times in the early 1980s, with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in 1983, and the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) in 1984 independently proposing the establishment of a world cup.[15] A proposal was again put to the IRFB in 1985 and this time successfully passed 10–6. The delegates from Australia, France, New Zealand and South Africa all voted for the proposal, and the delegates from Ireland and Scotland against; the English and Welsh delegates were split, with one from each country for and one against.[15][14]

The inaugural tournament, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, was held in May and June 1987, with sixteen nations taking part.[16] New Zealand became the first ever champions, defeating France 29–9 in the final.[17] The subsequent 1991 tournament was hosted by England, with matches played throughout Britain, Ireland and France. This tournament saw the introduction of a qualifying tournament; eight places were allocated to the quarter-finalists from 1987, and the remaining eight decided by a thirty-five nation qualifying tournament.[1] Australia won the second tournament, defeating England 12–6 in the final.[18]

In 1992, eight years after their last official series,[b] South Africa hosted New Zealand in a one-off test match. The resumption of international rugby in South Africa came after the dismantling of the apartheid system, and was only done with permission of the African National Congress.[19][20] With their return to test rugby, South Africa were selected to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup.[21] After upsetting Australia in the opening match, South Africa continued to advance through the tournament until they met New Zealand in the final.[22][23] After a tense final that went into extra time, South Africa emerged 15–12 winners,[24] with then President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey,[23] presenting the trophy to South Africa's captain, Francois Pienaar.[25]

The tournament in 1999 was hosted by Wales with matches also being held throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, Ireland and France. The tournament included a repechage system, alongside specific regional qualifying places, and an increase from sixteen to twenty participating nations. Australia claimed their second title, defeating France in the final.

The 2003 event was hosted by Australia, although it was originally intended to be held jointly with New Zealand. England emerged as champions defeating Australia in extra time. England's win was unique in that it broke the southern hemisphere's dominance in the event. Such was the celebration of England's victory, that an estimated 750,000 people gathered in central London to greet the team, making the day the largest sporting celebration of its kind ever in the United Kingdom.[26]

The 2007 competition was hosted by France, with matches also being held in Wales and Scotland. South Africa claimed their second title by defeating defending champions England 15–6. The 2011 tournament was awarded to New Zealand in November 2005, ahead of bids from Japan and South Africa. The All Blacks reclaimed their place atop the rugby world with a narrow 8–7 win over France in the 2011 final.


Main article: Webb Ellis Cup

The Webb Ellis Cup is the prize presented to winners of the Rugby World Cup, named after William Webb Ellis. The trophy is also referred to simply as the Rugby World Cup. The trophy was chosen in 1987 as an appropriate cup for use in the competition, and was created in 1906 by Garrard's Crown Jewellers.[27][28] The trophy is restored after each game by fellow Royal Warrant holder Thomas Lyte.[29][30] The words 'The International Rugby Football Board' and 'The Webb Ellis Cup' are engraved on the face of the cup. It stands thirty-eight centimetres high and is silver gilded in gold, and supported by two cast scroll handles, one with the head of a satyr, and the other a head of a nymph.[31] In Australia the trophy is colloquially known as "Bill" — a reference to William Webb Ellis.

Selection of hosts

Main article: Rugby World Cup hosts

Tournaments are organised by Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL), which is itself owned by World Rugby. The selection of host is decided by a vote of World Rugby Council members.[32][33] The voting procedure is managed by a team of independent auditors, and the voting kept secret. The allocation of a tournament to a host nation is now made five or six years prior to the commencement of the event, for example New Zealand were awarded the 2011 event in late 2005.

The tournament has been hosted by multiple nations. For example, the 1987 tournament was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. World Rugby requires that the hosts must have a venue with a capacity of at least 60,000 spectators for the final.[34] Host nations sometimes construct or upgrade stadia in preparation for the World Cup, such as Millennium Stadium – purpose built for the 1999 tournament – and Eden Park, upgraded for 2011.[34][35] The first country outside of the traditional rugby nations of SANZAR or the Six Nations to be awarded the hosting rights was Japan, who will host the 2019 tournament.

Tournament growth

Media coverage

Organizers of the 2015 tournament in England claim that the Rugby World Cup is the third largest sporting event in the World, behind only the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.[36]

Reports emanating from World Rugby and its business partners have frequently touted the tournament's media growth, with cumulative worldwide television audiences of 300 million for the inaugural 1987 tournament, 1.75 billion in 1991, 2.67 billion in 1995, 3 billion in 1999,[37] 3.5 billion in 2003,[38] and 4 billion in 2007.[39]
The 4 billion figure was widely dismissed as the global audience for television is estimated to be about 4.2 billion.[40]

However, independent reviews have called into question the methodology of those growth estimates, pointing to factual inconsistencies.[41] The event's supposed drawing power outside of a handful of rugby strongholds was also downplayed significantly, with an estimated 97 percent of the 33 million average audience produced by the 2007 final coming from Australasia, South Africa, the British Isles and France.[42] Other sports have been accused of exaggerating their television reach over the years; such claims are not exclusive to the Rugby World Cup.

While the event's global popularity remains a matter of dispute, high interest in traditional rugby nations is well documented. The 2003 final, between Australia and England, became the most watched rugby union match in the history of Australian television.[43]


Attendance figures[44]
Year Host(s) Total attendance Matches Avg attendance % change Stadium capacity % of capacity
1987 Australia, New Zealand 604,500 32 20,156 -- 1,006,350 60%
1991 England, Wales, France,
Ireland, Scotland
1,007,760 32 31,493 +56% 1,212,800 79%
1995 South Africa 1,100,000 32 34,375 +9% 1,423,850 77%
1999 Wales 1,750,000 41 42,683 +24% 2,104,500 83%
2003 Australia 1,837,547 48 38,282 -10% 2,208,529 83%
2007 France 2,263,223 48 47,150 +23% 2,470,660 92%
2011 New Zealand 1,477,294 48 30,777 -35% 1,732,000 85%


Revenue for Rugby World Cup tournaments[44]
Source 1987 1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011
Gate receipts (M £) -- -- 15 55 81 147 131
Broadcasting (M £) -- -- 19 44 60 82 93
Sponsorship (M £) -- -- 8 18 16 28 29


  • The host union keeps revenue from gate receipts. World Rugby, through RWCL, receive revenue from sources including broadcasting rights, sponsorship and tournament fees.[44]



Year Host(s) Final Bronze Final Number of teams
Winner Score Runner-up 3rd place Score 4th place
1987 Australia Australia &
New Zealand New Zealand

New Zealand

1991 England England,
France France,
Ireland Ireland
Scotland Scotland &
Wales Wales


New Zealand
1995 South Africa South Africa
South Africa

New Zealand

1999 Wales Wales

South Africa
New Zealand
2003 Australia Australia


New Zealand
2007 France France
South Africa

2011 New Zealand New Zealand
New Zealand

2015 England England 20

Performance of nations

Map of nations' best results (excluding qualifying tournaments).

Twenty-five nations have participated at the Rugby World Cup (excluding qualifying tournaments). Of the seven tournaments that have been held, all but one have been won by a national team from the southern hemisphere.[45] The southern hemisphere's dominance has been broken only in 2003, when England beat Australia in the final.[45]

Thus far the only nations to host and win a tournament are New Zealand (1987 and 2011) and South Africa (1995). The performance of other host nations includes England (1991 final hosts) and Australia (2003 hosts) finishing runners-up. France (2007 hosts) finished fourth, while Wales (1999 hosts) failed to reach the semi-finals. England became the first host nation to be eliminated at the pool stages in 2015. Of the twenty-five nations that have ever participated in at least one tournament, twelve of them have never missed a tournament.[c]

Team records

Team Champions Runners-up Third Fourth
 New Zealand 2 (1987, 2011) 1 (1995) 2 (1991, 2003) 1 (1999)
 Australia 2 (1991, 1999) 1 (2003) 1 (2011) 1 (1987)
 South Africa 2 (1995, 2007) 1 (1999)
 England 1 (2003) 2 (1991, 2007) 1 (1995)
 France 3 (1987, 1999, 2011) 1 (1995) 2 (2003, 2007)
 Wales 1 (1987) 1 (2011)
 Argentina 1 (2007)
 Scotland 1 (1991)

The following teams have reached the quarter-finals but never progressed beyond that stage:

Records and statistics

A middle-aged man wearing a suit and tie holding the Scottish flag.
Gavin Hastings is one of four players to have kicked a record eight penalties in a single World Cup match.

The record for most points overall is held by English player Jonny Wilkinson, who scored 277 over his World Cup career.[46] Grant Fox of New Zealand holds the record for most points in one competition, with 126 in 1987;[46] Jason Leonard of England holds the record for most World Cup matches: 22 between 1991 and 2003.[46] Simon Culhane holds the record for most points in a match by one player, 45, as well as the record for most conversions in a match, 20.[47] Marc Ellis holds the record for most tries in a match, six, which he scored against Japan in 1995.[48]

All Black Jonah Lomu holds a number of records: most career tries – 15 from the 1995 and 1999 tournaments, youngest player to appear in a final – aged 20 years and 43 days at the 1995 Final,[49] and most tries in a single tournament – 8 in 1999. South African Bryan Habana equalled Lomu's record for most tries in one competition when he scored 8 in 2007.[48] The record for most penalties in a match is 8, held by Matt Burke, Gonzalo Quesada, Gavin Hastings and Thierry Lacroix,[47] and the record for most penalties in a tournament, 31, is held by Gonzalo Quesada. South Africa's Jannie de Beer kicked five drop-goals against England in 1999 – an individual record for a single World Cup match.[49]

The most points scored in a game is 145 — by the All Blacks against Japan in 1995, while the widest winning margin is 142, held by Australia in a match against Namibia in 2003.[50]

A total of 16 players have been sent off (red carded) in the tournament. Welsh lock Huw Richards was the first, while playing against New Zealand in 1987. No player has been red carded more than once.[47]

See also


Printed sources

  • Collins, Tony (2008). "'The First Principle of Our Game': The rise and fall of amateurism: 1886–1995". In Ryan, Greg. The Changing Face of Rugby: The Union Game and Professionalism since 1995. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 1-84718-530-4. 
  • Davies, Gerald (2004). The History of the Rugby World Cup Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-86074-602-0.
  • Farr-Jones, Nick, (2003). Story of the Rugby World Cup, Australian Post Corporation. ISBN 0-642-36811-2.
  • Harding, Grant; Williams, David (2000). The Toughest of Them All: New Zealand and South Africa: The Struggle for Rugby Supremacy. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-029577-1. 
  • Martin, Gerard John (2005). The Game is not the Same – a History of Professional Rugby in New Zealand (Thesis). Auckland University of Technology. 
  • Peatey, Lance (2011). In Pursuit of Bill: A Complete History of the Rugby World Cup. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-74257-191-1. 
  • Phillpots, Kyle (2000). The Professionalisation of Rugby Union (Thesis). University of Warwick. 
  • Williams, Peter (2002). "Battle Lines on Three Fronts: The RFU and the Lost War Against Professionalism". The International Journal of the History of Sport (Routledge) 19 (4): 114–136. doi:10.1080/714001793. 


  1. ^ However an exhibition tournament did take place at the 1936 Games. Rugby will be reintroduced to the Olympics in 2016, but as men's and women's seven-a-side rugby (Rugby Sevens).[12]
  2. ^ Against England in 1984.[19]
  3. ^ Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Romania, Scotland and Wales are the nations that have never missed a tournament, playing in all seven thus far. South Africa has played in all five in the post-apartheid era.


  1. ^ a b Peatey (2011) p. 59.
  2. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 34.
  3. ^ "Rankings to determine RWC pools". BBC News. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c "AB boost as World Cup seedings confirmed". NZPA. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "Caribbean kick off for RWC 2011 qualifying". 3 April 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Doin' it the Hard Way". Rugby News 38 (9). 2007. p. 26. 
  7. ^ a b "Doin' it the Hard Way". Rugby News 38 (9). 2007. p. 27. 
  8. ^ a b "Fixtures". World Rugby. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Tournament Rules". World Rugby. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "2015 Rugby World Cup seedings take shape". AAP. 20 November 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "A brief history of the Six Nations rugby tournament". 6 Nations Rugby. Archived from the original on 8 November 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2007. 
  12. ^ a b "History of Rugby in the Olympics". World Rugby. 9 November 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  13. ^ Richards, Huw (26 July 2012). "Rugby and the Olympics". ESPN. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  14. ^ a b "The History of RWC". Archived from the original on 14 April 2006. Retrieved 25 April 2006. 
  15. ^ a b Collins (2008), p. 13.
  16. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 31.
  17. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 42.
  18. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 77.
  19. ^ a b Harding (2000), p. 137
  20. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 78.
  21. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 82.
  22. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 87.
  23. ^ a b Harding (2000), pp. 159–160
  24. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 99.
  25. ^ Harding (2000), p. 168
  26. ^ "England honours World Cup stars". 2003-12-09. Retrieved 2006-05-03. 
  27. ^ "Second World Cup exists, Snedden confirms". New Zealand Herald. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  28. ^ Quinn, Keith (30 August 2011). "Keith Quinn: Back-history of RWC – part three". TVNZ. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  29. ^ "Friday Boss: Kevin Baker of silversmiths Thomas Lyte". BBC News. 
  30. ^ "Thomas Lyte". 
  31. ^ "The History of the Webb Ellis Cup". Sky Sport New Zealand. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  32. ^ "Official Website of the Rugby World Cup". Archived from the original on 2 February 2007. Retrieved 14 April 2007. 
  33. ^ "England awarded 2015 Rugby World Cup". ABC News Australia. AFP. 29 July 2009. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  34. ^ a b "New Zealand came close to losing Rugby World Cup 2011". Rugby Week. 12 December 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  35. ^ "Millennium Stadium, Cardiff". Virtual Tourist. Retrieved 23 February 2007. 
  36. ^ "Rugby World Cup 2015 Official Hospitality". RWC Ltd. Retrieved 2014-12-04. 
  37. ^ "Rugby World Cup 2003". Archived from the original on April 15, 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-25. 
  38. ^ "Visa International Renews Rugby World Cup Partnership". Archived from the original on 2006-04-27. Retrieved 2006-04-25. 
  39. ^ "Potential Impact of the Rugby World Cup on a Host Nation" (PDF). Deloitte & Touche. 2008. p. 5. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  40. ^ "Digital Divide: Global Household Penetration Rates for Technology". VRWorld. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  41. ^ Nippert, Matt (2010-05-02). "Filling the Cup – cost $500m and climbing". New Zealand Herald. APN New Zealand. Retrieved 2014-12-02. 
  42. ^ Burgess, Michael (2011-10-23). "Logic debunks outrageous numbers game". New Zealand Herald. APN New Zealand. Retrieved 2014-12-02. 
  43. ^ Derriman, Phillip (2006-07-01). "Rivals must assess impact of Cup fever". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax). Retrieved 2006-07-01. 
  44. ^ a b c International Rugby Board Year in Review 2012. International Rugby Board. p. 62. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  45. ^ a b "Only the Strong Survive". Rugby News 38 (9). 2007. pp. 32–33. 
  46. ^ a b c Peatey (2011) p. 243.
  47. ^ a b c "All Time RWC Statistics". International Rugby Board. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  48. ^ a b Peatey (2011) p. 244.
  49. ^ a b Peatey (2011) p. 245.
  50. ^ Peatey (2011) p. 242.

External links