Rugby World Cup

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Sports events

Rugby World Cup
The Rugby World Cup trophy, the Webb Ellis Cup.
Sport Rugby union
Founded 1987
No. of teams 20 (Finals)
Continent International ( IRB)
Most recent
Flag of South Africa  South Africa

The Rugby World Cup is the premier international rugby union competition. The event is organised 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 with the game's invention. The tournament is one of the largest international sporting competitions in the world.

South Africa are the current World champions, having won the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final in France on 20 October 2007 with victory over England, the 2003 World Champions and current runners-up. The next Rugby World Cup is due to be contested in New Zealand in 2011.



Qualifying tournaments were introduced for the second tournament, where eight of the sixteen places were contested in a twenty-four-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 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) . The qualification system for the remaining eight places will be region-based with Europe and the Americas allocated two qualifying places, Africa, Asia and Oceania one place each, with the last place determined by a play-off .

The old format (2003 & 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. Positions were filled by three teams from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, three from Europe and two from Oceania. 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. The second repechage position was determined between the runners-up from the Asia and Oceania qualifiers.


The opening game of the 2003 competition; Argentina and Australia at Telstra Stadium in Sydney.
The opening game of the 2003 competition; Argentina and Australia at Telstra Stadium in Sydney.

The current model features twenty 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, A through to D, of five nations each. The pool allocation system seeds teams ranked one to four from the previous tournament into A to D pools respectively. The other four automatic entrants—the losing quarter-finalists from the previous tournament—are drawn into pools at random.

The remaining positions in each pool are filled by the qualifiers. Nations play four pool games, playing their respective pool members once. 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 rank; the sixth and final criterion decides the higher rank through the Official IRB World Rankings.

The winner (first position) and runner-up (second position) of each pool enters 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, where the respective winners proceed to the final. Losers of the semi-finals contest for third place (called the 'Bronze Final'). Should a tie result during an event in the knock-out stages, the winner is determined through extra time. Should that fail, sudden death begins when the next team to score any points is declared with winner; as a last resort, a kicking competition is used.


Prior to the Rugby World Cup, there were only regional international rugby union competitions. One of the largest and oldest is the Six Nations Championship, which started in 1883 as the " Home Nations" championship, a tournament between England, Ireland, Scotland national rugby union team">Scotland and Wales. It became the Five Nations in 1910, when France joined the tournament. France did not participate from 1931 to 1939, during which period it reverted back to a Home Nations championship. In 2000, Italy joined the competition, which became the Six Nations.

In the southern hemisphere, the equivalent competition is the Tri Nations series held between Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

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. France won the first gold medal, then Australasia, with the last two being won by the United States. However rugby union was soon removed from the Summer Olympic program.

The idea of a Rugby World Cup had been suggested on numerous occasions going back to the 1950s, but met with oppostion from most unions in the IRFB. The idea resurfaced several times in the early 1980s, with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) independently writing to the IRFB seeking to conduct a World Cup tournament. In 1985, Australia, New Zealand and France were in favour of a world cup and, despite knowing that the international sports boycott on their apartheid regime would prevent their participation, the South African delegates also voted in favour, which was vital in tying the vote 8-8. When one English delegate followed by a Welsh delegate switched sides, by 10 votes to 6 the IRFB finally approved the inaugural cup, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand in May and June of 1987.

The inaugural tournament was contested in Australia and New Zealand between sixteen nations. The All Blacks (New Zealand) became the first ever champions, defeating France twenty-nine 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 thirty-five nations. Australia won the second tournament, defeating England, twelve points to six. The 1995 tournament was hosted by South Africa, which had originally tied the vote that eventually 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.

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 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. 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 fifteen points to six. The 2011 tournament was awarded to New Zealand in November 2005, ahead of bids from Japan and South Africa.


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 thirty-eight 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. The colloquial name of the trophy in Australia is "Bill" (a reference to William Webb Ellis).

Selection of hosts

Tournaments are voted on by the IRB member nations and are organised by Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL). 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.

The tournament has in the past been hosted by either a single or multiple nation(s). For example the 1987 tournament was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The IRB requires that a host nation must have a 60,000 (minimum) capacity venue for the final. 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.



Year Host Final Third place match
Winner Score Runner-up 3rd place Score 4th place
Australia &
New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand
New Zealand
29–9 Flag of France
Flag of Wales
22–21 Flag of Australia
England Flag of Australia
12–6 Flag of England
Flag of New Zealand
New Zealand
13–6 Flag of Scotland
South Africa Flag of South Africa
South Africa
( aet)
Flag of New Zealand
New Zealand
Flag of France
19–9 Flag of England
Wales Flag of Australia
35–12 Flag of France
Flag of South Africa
South Africa
22–18 Flag of New Zealand
New Zealand
Australia Flag of England
( aet)
Flag of Australia
Flag of New Zealand
New Zealand
40–13 Flag of France
France Flag of South Africa
South Africa
15-6 Flag of England
Flag of Argentina
34–10 Flag of France
New Zealand

Performance of nations

Map of nations best results, excluding nations which unsuccessfully participated in qualifying tournaments.
Map of nations best results, excluding nations which unsuccessfully participated in qualifying tournaments.

In total, twenty-four nations have participated at the Rugby World Cup (excluding qualifying tournaments). Out of the six tournaments that have been held, all but one have been won by a southern hemisphere nation. New Zealand won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, with Australia winning in 1991, South Africa in 1995, Australia again in 1999, and then South Africa again in 2007. The Southern hemisphere dominance, which extended over four World Cups, was broken in 2003, when England beat Australia in the final.

However the only all-Southern final was in 1995 (South Africa and New Zealand). England (1991) and France (1987 and 1999) were 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 (1991 final host) and Australia (2003 host) being runners-up in 1991 and 2003 respectively. France (2007 hosts) finished fourth, while Wales (1999 hosts) failed to reach the semi-finals. Of the twenty-four nations that have ever participated in at least one tournament, twelve of them have never missed a tournament.

Team ranking

Pos. Team Champion Runner-up Third Fourth
1st Flag of Australia  Australia 2 ( 1991, 1999) 1 ( 2003) - 1 ( 1987)
2nd Flag of South Africa  South Africa 2 ( 1995, 2007) - 1 ( 1999) -
3rd Flag of England England 1 ( 2003) 2 ( 1991, 2007) - 1 ( 1995)
4th Flag of New Zealand New Zealand 1 ( 1987) 1 ( 1995) 2 ( 1991, 2003) 1 ( 1999)
5th Flag of France  France - 2 ( 1987, 1999) 1 ( 1995) 2 ( 2003, 2007)
6th Flag of Wales Wales - - 1 ( 1987) -
Flag of Argentina  Argentina - - 1 ( 2007) -
8th Flag of Scotland Scotland - - - 1 ( 1991)

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

  • Flag of Ireland Ireland (four times)
  • Flag of Fiji  Fiji (twice)
  • Flag of Samoa  Samoa (twice)
  • Flag of Canada  Canada (once)

Success rate

Team Appearances Won Win rate
South Africa 4 2 50%
Australia 6 2 33%
England 6 1 17%
New Zealand 6 1 17%

Records and statistics

The most overall points accumulated in the final stages is held by English player Jonny Wilkinson. Grant Fox of New Zealand holds the record for most points in one competition, with 126 in 1987; Jason Leonard of England holds the record for most appearances with 22 from 1991 to 2003. Simon Culhane holds the record for most points in a match by a player, 45, as well as the record for most conversions in a match: 20. Marc Ellis holds the record for most tries in a match, scoring six. New Zealander Jonah Lomu holds the records for overall tries in the final stages — 15 altogether from the 1995 and 1999 tournaments. Both Jonah Lomu and South African Bryan Habana share the most tries in one competition:8 The record for most penalties in a match is 8, held by Matt Burke, Gonzalo Quesada, Gavin Hastings and Thierry Lacroix, and the record for most penalties in a tournament, 31, is held by Gonzalo Quesada. Most drop goals in a match is held by South Africa's Jannie de Beer. The most points scored in a game 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.

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