Rugby World Cup

Rugby World Cup
William Webb Ellis Cup.jpg
The Rugby World Cup trophy, the Webb Ellis Cup
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1987
Number of teams 20 (Finals)
Country International (IRB)
Holders  South Africa (2007)

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 it is contested every four years. The tournament is one of the largest international sporting competitions in the world.[1]

The winners are awarded the William Webb Ellis Cup. William Webb Ellis was the Rugby School pupil who – according to popular myth – invented the game by picking up the ball during a game akin to one of the many codes of medieval football. 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. The 2011 Rugby World Cup is taking place in New Zealand. The hosts for 2015 and 2019 have been announced as England and Japan respectively.[2]





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).[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] Positions were filled by three teams from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, three from Europe and two from Oceania.[5] 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.[6] The second repechage position was determined between the runners-up from the Asia and Oceania qualifiers.[6]


The opening game of the 2003 Rugby World Cup between Argentina and Australia at Telstra Stadium in Sydney

The current model features twenty nations competing over a month in the host nation(s).[7] 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] The teams are seeded before the start of the tournament, with the seedings taken from the IRB World Rankings. The four highest-ranked teams are placed in pools A to D. The next four highest-ranked teams are then drawn into the pools at random, followed by the next four.[9] The remaining positions in each pool are filled by the qualifiers.

Nations play four pool games, playing their respective pool members once each.[8] 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;[8] the sixth and final criterion decides the higher rank through the official IRB World Rankings.[8]

The winner (first position) and runner-up (second position) of each pool enter the knock-out stage.[8] 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.[8] 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').[8] Should a draw result during a match 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 the winner; as a last resort, a kicking competition is used.[8]


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 and Wales. It became the Five Nations in 1910, when France joined the tournament. France did not participate from 1931 to 1939,[10] during which period it reverted to a Home Nations championship. In 2000, Italy joined the competition, which became the Six Nations.[11]

In the southern hemisphere, the equivalent competition is the Tri Nations series held between Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, which began in 1996.

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.[12] France won the first gold medal, then Australasia, with the last two being won by the United States.[12] However rugby union was soon removed from the Summer Olympic program.[12]

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. 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.[13] In 1985, Australia, New Zealand and France were in favour of a world cup and, despite knowing that the international sports boycott of the 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, the IRFB finally approved the inaugural cup, by 10 votes to 6.[13]

The inaugural tournament, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, was held in May and June 1987, with sixteen nations taking part. The All Blacks (New Zealand) became the first ever champions, defeating France twenty-nine points to nine in the final. The subsequent 1991 tournament was hosted by England, with matches being played throughout 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 in the final. 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 in which South Africa participated, following the end of the international sports boycott. The tournament had a fairytale ending, as South Africa were crowned champions over the All Blacks, with then President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey and matching baseball cap, presenting the trophy to South Africa's captain, Francois Pienaar.

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.[14] 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. Rugby World Cup Limited recommended to the IRB that the 2015 and 2019 World Cups be held in England and Japan, respectively, and in July 2009 it was announced that this proposal was adopted.[15]


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. The words 'International Rugby 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.[16] In Australia the trophy is colloquially known as "Bill" (a reference to William Webb Ellis).

Selection of hosts

Tournaments are organised by Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL), and hosts are voted on by the IRB member nations.[17] The voting procedure is 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 major sport; this trend continued when New Zealand was awarded the 2011 event ahead of Japan, a traditionally weaker rugby nation. 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.[18]

The tournament has in the past been hosted by both single and multiple nations. For example the 1987 tournament was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The IRB requires that a host nation must have a venue of (minimum) 60,000 capacity for the final.[19] 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.[20] The first non Tri Nations or Five Nations country to host a Rugby World Cup will be Japan in 2019.

Media coverage

The tournament is one of the largest international sporting events in the world, surpassed in scale only by the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics,[21] and the Tour de France.[22] 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.[23] The 2003 tournament had a cumulative world television audience of 3.5 billion,[24] and the final, between Australia and England, became the most watched rugby union match in the history of Australian television.[25] The event was broadcast in 205 countries.[26] The 2003 tournament had a cumulative world television audience of 3.5 billion, it had 48 matches, with an average attendance of 38,282 and a total of 1,837,547. The 2007 tournament had a cumulative world television audience of 4.2 billion for the 48 matches, with an average attendance of 47,150 per match, and a total attandance at all matches of 2,263,223.[27]



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

New Zealand

IRFU flag.svg Ireland,
 Scotland &


New Zealand
 South Africa
South Africa

New Zealand


South Africa
New Zealand


New Zealand
South Africa

 New Zealand            

Performance of nations

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 national team from the southern hemisphere.[28] 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.[28] The southern hemisphere's dominance, which extended over four World Cups, was broken in 2003, when England beat Australia in the final.[28]

However the only all-southern final was in 1995 (South Africa and New Zealand). England (1991) and France (1987 and 1999) between them were runners-up in all other tournaments before the 2003 Rugby World Cup. 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 a tournament are New Zealand (1987) 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. Of the twenty-four nations that have ever participated in at least one tournament, twelve of them have never missed a tournament.[29]

Team records

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

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

Success rate

Team Appearances Won Win rate (Tournaments) Win rate (Matches)
South Africa 4 2 50% 86%
Australia 6 2 33% 85%
New Zealand 6 1 17% 83%
England 6 1 17% 73%

Records and statistics

The record for 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;[30] Jason Leonard of England holds the record for most appearances with 22 between 1991 and 2003. 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.[31] Marc Ellis holds the record for most tries in a match, scoring six.[32] New Zealander Jonah Lomu holds the records for overall tries in the final stages — 15 altogether from the 1995 and 1999 tournaments. Jonah Lomu and South African Bryan Habana share the most tries in one competition, with 8.[30] 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 (5) 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.[33]

See also


Printed sources


  1. ^ "IRB Organisation". International Rugby Board. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  2. ^ "England will host 2015 World Cup". BBC. 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  3. ^ "Rankings to determine RWC pools". BBC News. 2008-02-22.
  4. ^ Official RWC 2011 Site - Caribbean kick off for RWC 2011 qualifying
  5. ^ a b "Doin' it the Hard Way". Rugby News 38 (9): p. 26. 2007
  6. ^ a b "Doin' it the Hard Way". Rugby News 38 (9): p. 27. 2007
  7. ^ "Twenty teams to compete at Rugby World 2011". irb.com. 2007-11-30. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Tournament Rules". rugbyworldcup.com. Archived from the original on August 19, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-26.
  9. ^ "Wales Drawn With Australia". wru.co.uk. Retrieved 2006-05-11.
  10. ^ "Professionalism". wesclark.com. Retrieved 2006-05-03.
  11. ^ "A brief history of the Six Nations rugby tournament". 6 Nations Rugby. Archived from the original on November 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-31.
  12. ^ a b c "Rugby at the 1924 olympics". Rugbyfootballhistory.com. Retrieved 2007-04-04.
  13. ^ a b "The History of RWC". worldcupweb.com. Archived from the original on April 14, 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-25.
  14. ^ "England honours World Cup stars". bbc.co.uk. 2003-12-09. Retrieved 2006-05-03.
  15. ^ International Rugby Board - RWCL recommends England and Japan
  16. ^ "The History of the Williams Webb Ellis Cup". wesclark.com. Retrieved 2006-05-03.
  17. ^ "Official Website of the IRB Rugby World Cup". rugbyworldcup.com. Archived from the original on February 2, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-04.
  18. ^ "Argentina spills the beans on 2011". rugbyworld.com. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  19. ^ "Rugby World Cup 2011 Final Venue". New Zealand Economic Department. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  20. ^ "Millennium Stadium, Cardiff". Virtual Tourist. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  21. ^ "IRB Organisation". International Rugby Board. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  22. ^ Dauncey, Hugh and Hare, Geoff (2003), Tour de France: 1903–2003, Routledge, USA, ISBN 978-0-7146-5362-4, p117
  23. ^ "Rugby World Cup 2003". sevencorporate.com.au. Archived from the original on April 15, 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-25.
  24. ^ "Visa International Renews Rugby World Cup Partnership". corporate.visa.com. Archived from the original on 2006-04-27. Retrieved 2006-04-25.
  25. ^ Derriman, Phillip (2006-07-01). "Rivals must assess impact of Cup fever". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax). Retrieved 2006-07-01.
  26. ^ "Another Side of the Rugby World Cup". abc.net.au. Retrieved 2006-05-03.
  27. ^ "RWC 2003: “The Best Ever”". rwc2003.irb.com. Retrieved 2006-07-01.[dead link]
  28. ^ a b c "Only the Strong Survive". Rugby News 38 (9): pp. 32–33. 2007
  29. ^ 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 six thus far. South Africa has played in all four in the post-apartheid era.
  30. ^ a b "Rugby World Cup Records". worldcupweb.com. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  31. ^ Simon Culhane at AllBlacks.com
  32. ^ "World Cup records". BBC. 2003-09-26. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  33. ^ "RWC 2007 – Team Statistics". rugbyworldcup.com. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
Author:Bling King
Published:Sep 25th 2011
Modified:Jan 10th 2012

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