Rugby Union World Cup

The Rugby Union World Cup is the biggest international rugby event in the world. It brings together the best teams and is often considered to be defining moments in players careers. What’s great about the tournament is that you get to see a mix of both Northern and Southern Hemisphere teams battle it out for the coveted prize on champions.

The tournament is run once every 4 years and with it moves around from nation to nation. Like most international tournaments in sport, a bidding process to host the World Cup takes place, before the governing body then decide who is eligible to host. 

It’s not uncommon for several countries to host one tournament, which was the case in 1987 and 1991. As more and more countries are starting to get more competitive in the sport, the governing body are keen to broaden the market for the sport, highlighted by the appointment of Japan to host the 2019 tournament, making them the first country in Asia to do so. 

About

In total, there are 20 nations that compete at the World Cup, a number that has risen from 16 since the 1999 World Cup. Teams from all over the world are able to qualify with a number of slots up for grabs from both qualification and teams that are automatically entered, based on a number of criteria that have been laid out and met.  

The tournament usually starts in September time, which works well for both Northern and Southern Hemisphere, given that the weather is usually pretty good for both, avoiding freezing temperatures in winter. 

It lasts around 6 weeks and throughout the 6 weeks there are 48 games that will need to be played to determine the winner. 

The World Cup is hosted by World Rugby, who are the governing bodies for the international game. World Rugby has been formed since 1886 and are currently based out of Dublin Ireland. The body includes 102 members, with 17 associate members, creating the board for the governing body. 

Qualification

12 of the 20 places for the World Cup are made up by the teams that finished 3rdor better in the previous World Cup. Many people think this goes on World Ranking, but this is not the case. These teams will get automatic entry into the tournament without having to go through any qualifying stages.

The remaining 8 places are made up from a number of regions. 8 teams for Europe, 5 for Oceania, 3 for Americas, two for Africa and one for Asia. All nations get one allocation from their qualifying process, apart from Europe who gain 2 spots. There is also one Wild Card spot, where nations that only marginally failed to qualify will be allowed in. 

Format of the Finals

The World Cup ‘proper’ is split over two sections; a group stage and knockout stage. There are 4 groups in total, each with 5 nations in that group. The teams that are in tournament are seeded based on current world rankings. The four highest seeded teams will all be in different groups, before the next highest ranked are drawn into a pool and so on for the next 4 ranked nations. The qualifiers fill the remaining spaces within the group.

Each nation will play each other once, which results in each nation playing at least 4 games in the competition. The winner and the runner up of each group will qualify for the knockout stages, which includes 8 nations in total. From here, a straight knockout will apply, with the winning team progressing to the quarter final, semi-final and then the final. 

The two losers from the two semi-finals will pay off in a 3rd/4thplace play off, known as the Bronze Final. Tied games in the knockout rounds will go through to extra time and if needed, sudden death, where the first team to score a point will progress. 

Host Nations

World Rugby ultimately decide who hosts each tournament. A vote is carried out by the rugby council and then awarded to the nation they deem best to host the tournament given their current set up. You’ll find that tournaments are usually hosted around 6 years prior to that tournament starting, in order to give enough time to prepare fully for the event. 

As mentioned earlier, Japan will be the first nation in Asia and the first nation outside of the higher profile rugby playing nations to host a world cup. Due to their already impressive sporting infrastructure, it was decided by World Rugby that they would be a good fit to host and grow the game around the world. France have already been awarded as hosts of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which will be their third time in total after hosting on their own in 2007 and as part of the 5 nations in 1991. 

Statistics

Since it’s inauguration in 1987, only 4 teams have won the rugby World Cup. Three of those teams have come from the Southern Hemisphere, in the form of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The only team from the Northern Hemisphere was that of England in 2003.

The most successful team is that of New Zealand who have won 3 World Cup’s and most notably, the last two in 2015 and 2011, respectively. They have also been involved in 4 finals in total, losing out to South Africa in 1995. 

Jonny Wilkinson holds the record for the most points in the tournaments history, with 277 to his name. The English fly-half was an integral part of the winning team in 2003 and represented his country in 4 World Cup’s, making 19 appearances in total. 

Gavin Hastings of Scotland holds the record for the most points scored in a single World Cup match with 44 when Scotland played Ivory Coast in the 1995 World Cup. Two players are tied for the most tries in World Cup history, that of South Africa’s Bryan Habana and New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu, scoring a total of 15 tries each. They also hold the record of most tries in a single World Cup with 8, alongside Julian Savea of New Zealand. Table of nations with their best result at a world cup.

Best Result by Nation

Nation

Best Result

New Zealand

Winners x 3

Australia 

Winners x 2

South Africa

Winners x 2

England

Winners x 1

France

Runners Up x 3

Wales

Third

Argentina

Third

Scotland

Fourth

Ireland

Quarter-finals

Fiji

Quarter-finals 

History

The Rugby World Cup was pretty late to the party in comparison to the development of rugby union. There were a number of international tournaments that were already taking place around the world, such as the Six Nations which started in 1883 as the Home Nations with just England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales taking part. 

The sport has also featured several times in the Olympics, back in the early 20thCentury. But, was axed in 1924 and hasn’t been played since at the Olympics. 

The concept of a truly international tournament had been floated about for some years before it started in 1987. In fact, it dates back to the 1950’s when the first plans for a global tournament were first announced by the IRFB. It wasn’t until 1985 that the proposal was finally passed, voted on the top 16 nations at the time. The bid was won, 10 votes to 6, with Australia and New Zealand the driving forces to getting the tournament up and running. 

The first tournament in 1987 was hosted by that of Australia and New Zealand, with 16 nations taking part, all of which were automatically entered due to status within the World Rugby governing body. 

As the game has grown, the tournament has also grown, initially starting with 16 nations taking part, but since 1999 20 nations have been in the World Cup, with the format remaining for the next two World Cup’s in 2019 and 2023 at least. 

William Webb Ellis

There are few bigger names in the sport than William Webb Ellis. It was widely regarded that Webb Ellis has the inventor of the sport when he indivertibly picked up a football during a match and ran with the ball in 1823. The game was taking place at Rugby School, which is where the name has been derived from. 

But, a lot of historians actually state that this is a bit of myth and whilst they were sure that Webb Ellis was the inventor of rugby, the story might be a little far-fetched. The reason why people are sceptical is that this story didn’t actually surface until 4 years after his death in 1872, so they were unable to prove his story as a result. 

As there is no substantial evidence to say otherwise, it is widely regarded that Webb Ellis had a major role in the formation of rugby, regardless of how it actually came about. 

To commemorate his feat, World Rugby decided that it would be fitting to name to the actual cup after Webb Ellis, with its official name being that of the William Webb Ellis Cup. 

New Zealand

No team has dominated by the Rugby World Cup quite like New Zealand have. Their 3 wins is more than any other country and with it they hold a host of records to their name as well.

Records Held by New Zealand

  • Highest Win Percentage: 37.5%
  • Most Points by a Team in a Single Match: 145 v Japan 1995
  • Most Tries in a Single Match: 22 v Namibia 2003
  • Most Titles: 3

These all go along with countless individual records, as well. Some of these include:

Individual Records by New Zealand Players

  • Most Points in 1 Tournament: 126 Grant Fox – 1987
  • Most Overall Tries in Finals: Jonah Lomu – 15
  • Most Tries in a Match: 6 Marc Ellis v Japan 1995
  • Most Conversions: 58 Dan Carter
  • Most Conversions in a Single Match: 20 Simon Culhane
  • Most Appearances: Richie McCaw – 22
  • Youngest Player: Jonah Lomu ages 20 years, 43 days 1995

Whilst you could list a number of players who’ve been pivotal inclusions for New Zealand over the years, the likes of Dan Carter, Jonah Lomu and Richie McCaw are probably the three biggest for New Zealand. As you can see from the records above, they all feature and they’ve all been able to lift the World Cup for their nation at some point in their career. 

England 2003

Following the trends of the previous 3 World Cup’s, it was widely thought that the Southern Hemisphere would continue their domination within the tournament. Whilst England had been playing well on the international stage, few though that they would have the ability to overturn either that of Australia or New Zeeland, especially their own back yard. 

In what was thought a tough group, England managed to go on and win all 4 of their group games, with the most impressive being that of the 25-6 victory over South Africa. It was crucial for the English that they got this win as it meant in the knockout stages they would avoid both Australia and New Zealand on route to the final. 

A tough victory over Wales in the Quarter finals 28-17 ensured a semi0final bout with France, a game they would go on to comfortably win 24-7. Whilst Jonny Wilkinson was already rated as one of, if not the best fly half in the world at the time, his feat of scoring all 24 points for England in the semi-final was one that many remember as a defining point in his career.

That was, until the final v Australia. The game couldn’t have been closer and both teams were level on 17 points a piece before heading into extra time. The mantle was then passed to Wilkinson to get England over the line, which he duly obliged, scoring a 30m drop goal with right foot (weaker of the two) to ensure a 20-17 victory for England and the first Northern Hemisphere team to go on and win the tournament.

Players were then honoured for their work by the Queen, many receiving MBE’s and OBE’s, respectively. But it was the head coach, Clive Woodward who would gain highest recognition of them all, becoming a Knight. 

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