For the world cup that is contested in rugby league, see Rugby League World Cup.

The Rugby World Cup is the premier international rugby union competition. The event is organized by the sport's governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), and is contested by the men's national teams. The inaugural tournament was held in 1987, hosted by both Australia and New Zealand, and is now contested every four years.

The winners are awarded the William Webb Ellis Cup, named after the Rugby School pupil credited speciously with the game's invention. The tournament is one of the largest international sporting competitions in the world.[1][2] The title of world champion is currently held by England, who won the 2003 tournament held in Australia. The next Rugby World Cup will be hosted in France during September and October of 2007.



Main article: Rugby World Cup qualification

Qualifying tournaments were introduced for the second tournament, where eight of the 16 places were contested in a 24 nation tournament. 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, International Rugby Board) member nations, and the rest by invitation. The current format allows for eight of the 20 available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the eight quarter finalists of the previous tournament enter its successor. The remaining 12 positions are filled by continental qualifying tournaments. Positions are filled by three teams from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, three from Europe and two from Oceania. Another two places are allocated for repechage. The first repechage place is 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. The second repechage position is determined between the runners-up from the Asia and Oceania qualifiers.


The current model features 20 nations competing over a month in the host nation(s). There are two stages, a group and a knock-out. Nations are divided into four pools of five nations, A through to D.[3] The pool allocation system seeds teams ranked one through to four from the previous tournament, into A through to D pools respectively. The other four automatic entrants——the losing quarter-finalists from the previous tournament are drawn into an individual pool at random.[4]

The remaining positions in each pool are filled by the qualifiers. Nations play four pool games, playing their respective pool members once.[3] A bonus points system is used during pool play. If two or more teams are level on points, a system of criteria (starting with (i) through to (v)) is used to determine the higher rank.[5] If there is no resolution through the five steps stipulated by the criteria, then step (vi) decides the higher rank through the Official IRB World Rankings.[5]

The winner (first position) and runner-up (second position) of each pool enters the knock-out stage.[3] 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 an opposing pool in a quarter-final.[3] The winner of each quarter-final goes on to the semi-finals, where the respective winners proceed to the final. Losers of the semi-finals contest for third place (called the 'Bronze Final').[3] Should a tie results during an event in the knock-out stages, the winner is determined through extra time. Should that fail, sudden death begins, and as a last resort, a kicking competition.[5]


Main article: History of the Rugby World Cup

Prior to the Rugby World Cup, there had been various competitions that were similar in nature. One of the largest and oldest international rugby union competitions is the Home Nations, first played in 1883 through to 1909 between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.[6] It became the Five Nations in 1910 when France joined, although they were excluded from 1931 to 1939 amid allegations of professionalism.[7] Though the nations' tournament was a European affair, it was one of the few consistent international competitions. Rugby union was also played at the Summer Olympics, first appearing at the 1900 Paris games and subsequently at London in 1908, Antwerp in 1920, and Paris again in 1924.[8] France won the first gold medal, then Australasia, with the last two being won by the United States.[8] The International Olympic Committee (IOC) however cancelled rugby union as an Olympic sport.[8]

The idea of a Rugby World Cup had been suggested on numerous occasions as far back as the 1950s, though the IRFB made it clear that it did not want its member unions to get involved in anything like a world championship.[9] The idea resurfaced throughout the early 1980s, and was dismissed at a 1983 IRFB meeting. It is thought that the defining moment in the creation of such a tournament came when the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) each independently wrote to the IRFB seeking to conduct a World Cup tournament.[9] In 1985 the IRFB approved the inaugural cup, which was to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand during May and June of 1987, though the proposition was met with much opposition, led by the British and Irish delegations.[9] The decisive vote to approve the proposal came from the South African delegates, who voted in favor despite knowing that the international sports boycott on their country's apartheid regime would prevent their team from participating in the tournament.[9]

Celebrations at Trafalgar Square during a parade after England defeated Australia in the 2003 final.

The inaugural tournament was contested in Australia and New Zealand between 16 nations. The All Blacks (New Zealand) became the first ever champions, defeating France 29 points to nine. The subsequent 1991 tournament was hosted by England, with matches also being played throughout the rest of Britain, Ireland and France. This tournament also saw the abolition of invitation qualification—with a qualifying tournament being introduced which involved 35 nations. Australia won the second tournament, defeating England, 12 points to six. The 1995 tournament was hosted by South Africa—the nation that originally tipped the vote that saw the first event take place. The tournament was the first that South Africa would actually play in, following the end of the international sports boycott. The tournament had a fairytale ending, as South Africa were crowned champions over the All Blacks, which concluded with then President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey and matching baseball cap, presenting the trophy to the South Africa's captain Francois Pienaar. The moment is seen as one of the most emotional in the sport's history.[10] However, there were allegations that the New Zealand side were food poisoned. Reports of this had been around for days before the game, and a police inquiry was launched. It was suspected that book-keepers had poisoned the New Zealand side at a banquet, and the only team-members to escape the alledged poisonings did not eat at the suspected banquet.

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 16 to 20 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, disagreements between the IRB and the NZRFU over sponsorship, advertising and ticketing saw the competition given in its entirety to Australia. England emerged as champions defeating Australia in extra time. England's win was unique in that it broke the Southern hemisphere's domination of 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.[11] The 2007 competition will be held in France, with matches also being held in Wales and Scotland. The 2011 tournament was awarded to New Zealand in November 2005, ahead of bids from Japan and South Africa.


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, who is credited with creating the game of rugby football. 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. The words 'International Rugby Board' and 'The Webb Ellis Cup' are engraved on the face of the cup. It stands at 38 centimetres and is silver gilded in gold, and supported by two cast scroll handles, one handle has a head of a satyr, and the other has a head of a nymph.[12] The colloquial name of the trophy in Australia is "Bill"—a reference to William Webb Ellis. The trophy is currently kept in the Museum of Rugby, London.

Selection of hosts[]

Main article: Rugby World Cup hosts

Tournaments are voted on by the IRB member nations and are organised by Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL).[13] This decides what nation(s) will host the tournament, with the voting procedure managed by a team of independent auditors, and the voting kept secret. All the tournaments thus far have been held in nations in which rugby union is a popular sport, this trend continued when New Zealand was awarded the 2011 event ahead of Japan, a traditionally weaker rugby nation in comparison to New Zealand. The allocation of a tournament to a host nation is now made five or six years prior to the commencement of the particular event, as New Zealand were awarded the 2011 event in late 2005.[14]

The hosting process has been controversial in the past. The 2003 tournament was intended to be co-hosted by both Australia and New Zealand, but was in the end hosted by just Australia due to a disagreement over stadium advertising.[15] New Zealand was due to host 23 of the 48 matches.[15] In addition there was some confusion regarding 2011 bidding process, as it was rumored that the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) voted for New Zealand in hope of having some form of regular competition (Argentina are the only tier one nation not involved in a tournament such as the Six Nations or Tri Nations).[14] However these claims were later described as incorrect.[14] The IRB requires that a host nation must have a 60,000 (minimum) capacity venue for the final.[16] Host nations sometimes construct or upgrade stadia in preparation for the World Cup; such as Millennium Stadium - purpose built for the 1999 tournament or the upgrade of Eden Park for 2011.[17]

Media coverage[]

See also: List of sports attendance figures

The tournament is considered to be one of the largest international sporting events in the world, with the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics being paramount to it.[1][2] The first World Cup, in 1987, had a cumulative world television audience of 300 million; its successor, the 1991 event in England, reached 1.75 billion. South Africa's 1995 tournament reached 2.67 billion, and the 1999 Welsh hosted event reached 3 billion.[18] The 2003 tournament had a cumulative world television audience of 3.5 billion,[19] and the final, between Australia and England, became the most watched rugby match in the history of Australian television.[20] The event was broadcast in 205 countries.[21] The 2003 event had 48 matches, with an average attendance of 38,282 and a total of 1,837,547.[22]



Year Host Final Third place match
Winner Score Runner-up 3rd place Score 4th place
Australia &
New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand
29–9 France
22–21 Australia
England Australia
12–6 England
New Zealand
New Zealand
13–6 Scotland
South Africa South Africa
South Africa
New Zealand
New Zealand
19–9 England
Wales Australia
35–12 France
South Africa
South Africa
22–18 New Zealand
New Zealand
Australia England
New Zealand
New Zealand
40–13 France
New Zealand

Performance of nations[]

See also: National team appearances in the Rugby World Cup

In total, 23 nations have participated at the Rugby World Cup (excluding qualifying tournaments). Out of the five tournaments that have been held, all but one have been won by a southern hemisphere nation. The All Blacks won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, with Australia winning in 1991, South Africa in 1995 and then Australia again in 1999. The Southern hemisphere dominance, which extended over four World Cups, was broken at in 2003, when England beat Australia in the final.

The achievements of northern hemisphere teams should not be overlooked, as the only all-Southern final was in 1995 (South Africa and the All Blacks), with England (1991) and France (1987 and 1999) being runners-up in all the other tournaments before the 2003 Rugby World Cup. In addition, the cumulative spread of nations in the third/fourth place playoff is equal between both hemispheres over all tournaments.

Thus far the only nations to host and win the tournament are New Zealand (1987) and South Africa (1995). The performance of other host nations includes England and Australia being runners-up in 1991 and 2003 respectively. Wales did not feature in the final that they hosted in 1999. Of the 23 nations that have ever participated in at least one tournament, 12 of them have never missed a tournament. The table below shows the 23 nations which have participated in one or more tournaments with their best achievement(s).

Nation Number of appearances First appearance Most recent appearance Streak Best result
Flag of Argentina.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Quarter finals, 1999
Flag of Australia.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Champions, 1991, 1999
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Quarter finals, 1991
Flag of England (bordered).svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Champions, 2003
Flag of France.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Losing finalist, 1987, 1999
IRFU flag.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Quarter finals, 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003
Flag of Italy.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Two wins, 2003
Flag of Japan (bordered).svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 One win, 1991
Flag of New Zealand.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Champions, 1987
Flag of Romania.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 One win, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003
Flag of Scotland.svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Fourth, 1991
Flag of Wales (bordered).svg.png 5 1987 2003 5 Third, 1987
Flag of Fiji.svg.png 4 1987 2003 2 Quarter finals, 1987
Flag of Samoa.svg.png 4 1991 2003 4 Quarter finals, 1991, 1995
Flag of Tonga.svg.png 4 1987 2003 3 One win, 1995, 1999
Flag of the United States.svg.png 4 1987 2003 2 One win, 1987, 2003
Flag of South Africa.svg.png 3 1995 2003 3 Champions, 1995
Flag of Namibia.svg.png 2 1999 2003 2 No games won
Flag of Uruguay.svg.png 2 1999 2003 2 One win, 1999, 2003
Flag of Zimbabwe.svg.png 2 1987 1991 2 No games won
Flag of Portugal.svg.png 0 2007 2007 1 Competition yet to be played
Flag of Georgia.svg.png 1 2003 2003 1 No games won
Flag of Ivory Coast.svg.png 1 1995 1995 1 No games won
Flag of Spain.svg.png 1 1999 1999 1 No games won

Records and statistics[]

Main article: Records and statistics of the Rugby World Cup

The 1987 tournament was evidence of an existing gulf between the top nations and the (then) weaker sides. This was shown when the All Blacks scoring 74 points against Fiji and France scoring 13 tries against Zimbabwe.[23][23] The most points that have ever been scored against a nation during a Rugby World Cup is 145—by the All Blacks against Japan in 1995, with the widest margin being 142, held by Australia in a match against Namibia in 2003.[24][25]

The emergence of Jonah Lomu at the 1995 tournament saw the New Zealander break several records including most overall tries in final stages—15 in the 1995-99 tournaments and most tries in one competition, eight in 1999.[25][26] Several other records are held by prominent New Zealand players, including: most points in one competition, Grant Fox with 126 in 1987;[27] most points in a match by a player, Simon Culhane with 45 in the record breaking match against Japan in 1995; he also holds the record for most conversions in a match, being 20.[28] That match also saw Marc Ellis set a record for most tries in a match, scoring six.[29] The record for most appearances by an individual is also held by a New Zealander, Sean Fitzpatrick with 17 from the 1987 to 1995.[29] The most overall points accumulated in the final stages is held by Scottish player Gavin Hastings with 227 from the 1987 to 1995.[29]

See also[]

  • Women's Rugby World Cup
  • Rugby World Cup Sevens
  • List of international rugby union teams
  • List of rugby union competitions
  • Rugby union at the Olympics
  • 2006 Commonwealth Games Rugby


  1. 2.0 2.1 Harcourt, Tim. From the World Trade Organisation to the Rugby World Cup: how the Wallabies can help Australia exports. Retrieved on 2007-03-17.
  2. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Tournament Rules. Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  3. Wales Drawn With Australia. Retrieved on 2006-05-11.
  4. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Tournament Rules. Retrieved on 2007-03-16.
  5. A brief history of the Six Nations rugby tournament. 6 Nations Rugby. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  6. Professionalism. Retrieved on 2006-05-03.
  7. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Rugby at the 1924 olympics. Retrieved on 2007-04-04.
  8. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 The History of RWC. Retrieved on 2006-04-25.
  9. Wilkinson's moment after meeting doubts head-on. Retrieved on 2006-05-03.
  10. England honours World Cup stars. Retrieved on 2006-05-03.
  11. The History of the Williams Webb Ellis Cup. Retrieved on 2006-05-03.
  12. Official Website of the IRB Rugby World Cup. Retrieved on 2007-04-04.
  13. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Argentina spills the beans on 2011. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  14. 15.0 15.1 New Zealand loses Cup status. BBC. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  15. Rugby World Cup 2011 Final Venue. New Zealand Economic Department. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  16. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Virtual Tourist. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  17. Rugby World Cup 2003. Retrieved on 2006-04-25.
  18. Visa International Renews Rugby World Cup Partnership. Retrieved on 2006-04-25.
  19. Derriman, Phillip. Rivals must assess impact of Cup fever. Retrieved on 2006-07-01.
  20. Another Side of the Rugby World Cup. Archived from the original on 2003-10-18. Retrieved on 2006-05-03.
  21. RWC 2003: “The Best Ever”. Retrieved on 2006-07-01.
  22. 23.0 23.1 International Rugby Union result for France vs Zimbabwe on 2nd June 1987. Retrieved on 2007-02-23. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "2june1987" defined multiple times with different content
  23. 287th All Black Test : 990th All Black Game. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  24. 25.0 25.1 Growden, Greg. Wallabies notch up a ton of tries. Retrieved on 2007-02-23. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "stat1" defined multiple times with different content
  25. Player Statistics (Displaying top 20 with ties). Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  26. Player Statistics (Displaying top 20 with ties). Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  27. New Zealand All Blacks Player Profiles, Match Deails and Statistics. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  28. 29.0 29.1 29.2 World Cup records. BBC. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.

Further reading[]

  • Farr-Jones, Nick, (2003). Story of the Rugby World Cup, Australian Post Corporation, (ISBN 0-642-36811-2)

External links[]

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