Over the years, we’ve sent our clients to see some incredible sporting moments and The Rugby World Cup has provided more than its fair share of magic. Before we jet off to Japan for the 2019 edition of the tournament, we thought it would be a great time to relive some of the incredible Rugby World Cup memories that we’ve made throughout the years – from Jonny’s blessed left boot to the Springboks unifying a nation, The Rugby World Cup has seen it all and we’ve arranged the best seats in the house for every scrum, every try, every celebration, and every heartbreak.
The prospect of a world cup for a then-amateur sport had seemed impossible, but in 1987 players took to the field for the opening game of the first ever Rugby World Cup and competition for the William Web Ellis Cup began. Taking place in New Zealand and Australia, the All Blacks were the clear pre-tournament favourites and must have felt like they were playing to ratify 100 years of rugby dominance. They duly delivered and steamrolled every team they faced, including France whom they beat 29-9 in the final.
It didn’t take long for New Zealand to assert their dominance and in an opening game destruction of Italy legendary All Black wing John Kirwan scored one of the greatest tries in the history of the tournament. The powerful wing took the ball from the kick-off and burst 80-metres down the field, jinking through almost every player on the Italian side as he went. We highly recommend pulling it up on YouTube – tries like that are timeless.
Four years on, the second instalment of the tournament was held across England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France. Gripped by world-cup fever, England fans truly believed that their team could go all the way. It seemed like they would do exactly that until an Australia team comprised of future rugby royalty came to Twickenham for the final. The skilful Australians were too much for England and they ran out 12-6 winners, ensuring that the Web Ellis Cup remained in the Southern Hemisphere.
In a tournament full of rugby brilliance from mercurial Australian wing David Campese, it was his performance in the semi-final victory against defending champions New Zealand that really caught the eye. A now-legendary no-look pass cemented Campese’s legacy as one of the all-time greats and helped Australia on their way to world cup supremacy.
The 1995 tournament was significant for seeing South African return to international rugby and host the tournament following the end of apartheid. With the force of a nation behind them, the Springboks were beginning to look like potential champions. The sporting-press however, could see no further than New Zealand and their talisman, Jonah Lomu – a 20-year-old phenom who took the game by storm during the tournament (making mincemeat of England in the process). In front of a rapturous home crowd South Africa felled the All Black beast, winning 15-12 and bringing in a brighter future for the Rainbow Nation both on and off the pitch.
The 1995 tournament provided iconic moments that transcended the game of rugby and impacted the global consciousness. When Nelson Mandela handed the trophy to his country’s captain, Francois Pienaar, the shockwaves were felt around the world and South Africa unified, undoubtably aiding the post-apartheid healing process. The footage is still moving to this day and shows us how sport can be far more than just a game.
The first Rugby World Cup of the professional era was hosted by Wales, with games also taking place in England, France, Scotland, and Ireland. It was a tournament chock full of incredible feats, with Jonah Lomu once again decimating defences, Jannie de Beer kicking drop-goals for fun, and a host of upsets along the way. After knocking out defending champions South Africa, Australia went on to comfortably defeat France 35-12 in the final - becoming the first two-time champions in the history of the sport.
The 1999 World Cup produced one of the greatest games of rugby ever seen. When favourites New Zealand faced France in the semi-final everyone expected a routine victory for Johah Lomu’s All Blacks. New Zealand took an early lead, but France had other ideas, and scored 33 points without reply - causing one of the greatest upsets in Rugby World Cup history in the process, with France winning 43-31.
The 2003 Rugby World Cup still captivates the imaginations of English rugby fans. Hosts Australia entered the competition hoping to become the tournament’s first defending champions, but England – the number one ranked team in the world – felt otherwise. Spurred on by inspirational leadership from Martin Johnson, England defeated Australia 20-17 in a dramatic final that required extra-time before crowning England as the first Northern Hemisphere Rugby World Cup champions.
In the dying seconds of the final Jonny Wilkinson kicked the most famous drop-goal ever struck and shook the foundations of Northern Hemisphere rugby. Jonny remains an English sporting hero, as well as being the top points-scorer in Rugby World Cup history with 277 points from 1 try, 28 conversions, 58 penalties and 14 drop-goals.
Despite a rocky start England once again found themselves in the World Cup final in 2007. Standing against them were South Africa, a side who England has been utterly thrashed by earlier on in the tournament. Led by flying winger and tournament top try-scorer Bryan Habana, South Africa were strong favourites. Despite the best of English efforts South Africa ground out a 15-6 victory and the Web Ellis trophy returned to the Southern Hemisphere.
2007 produced a moment that most England fans will want to forget. With the final balanced on a knife edge Mark Cueto crossed the whitewash to score a game-changing try - only to have it disallowed by the TMO. The decision, still debated to this day, could have gone either way, and unfortunately for English fans, this time it didn’t go their way.
The tournament returned to New Zealand in 2011 and there was immense pressure on the home side to deliver the trophy. New Zealand hadn’t won the World Cup since 1987 despite largely being thought of as the most dominant team in the world through the ensuing years. Even though injuries forced them to field their third-choice fly half in the final against France, the All Blacks came out victorious in a close 8-7 game and brought the Web Ellis Cup home for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.
The 2011 tournament started in style when New Zealand and Tonga faced off against each other with their pre-match rituals, the Haka and the Sipi Tau. This spine-tingling cultural display left everybody in the stadium and all those watching around the world with goose-bumps and remains to be one of the most memorable moments in Rugby World Cup history.
In 2015 England embarrassingly crashed out in the group stage, becoming the first host nation to exit their own tournament so early. Defending champions New Zealand however, only went from strength to strength. Led by legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carts, the All Blacks defeated Australia 34-17 in the final and cemented their legacy by becoming both the first-ever defending champions and the first nation to lift the Web Ellis Cup three times.
When Japan arrived at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they carried the unfortunate accolade of having not won a single world cup match for 24 years. The rugby world was stunned when Japan recorded a 34-32 victory over South Africa, silencing all of their doubters and ensuring that a generation of Japanese sports fans were bitten by the rugby bug.
One of the most competitive and entertaining World Cups ever, the 2019 tournament saw England crushed in the final by an inspirational Springbok team after shocking New Zealand in the semi-finals, Wales yet again fall agonisingly short in a semi-final, the Brave Blossoms win fans all over the world with magnificent victories over Ireland and Scotland. In the end, seeing Siya Kolisi lift the Webb Ellis Cup as the first black South African to captain his country was a fitting end to an unforgettable tournament.
The World Cup was full of memorable moments, but there can be few more notable, surprising or unforgettable matches than England’s dismantling of the mighty All Blacks in the first semi-final. It began with the now infamous ‘V’ opposition to the haka, and continued through 80 minutes of scintillating rugby. The breakdown proved key, and both Tom Curry and Sam Underhill carved their name into rugby lore with two exemplary performances.
Want to be part of the action? Contact our Travel Specialists today about our Rugby World Cup tours.