So it’s 7 weeks now until what most people consider to be the most open Rugby World Cup tournament so far.
Will the might of the southern hemisphere come out on top again, or will the northern hemisphere provide the victor? A recap of the previous competitions gives little in the way of clues as to who will be triumphant. Here we’ve recapped each tournament final since 1987 in a bid to gain some insight into what’s ahead in 2015.
1987 Final: New Zealand v France. The All Blacks won the inaugural tournament, beating a French team who appeared to have expended all their energy winning their semi final by 29 points to 9.
1991 Final: England v Australia. Australia emerged as victorious, a solitary try from prop Tony Daly proving crucial in a 12 – 6 final score at Twickenham.
1995 Final: South Africa v New Zealand. This was a dream final at home for South Africa. Who could forget the sight of Nelson Mandela wearing a number 6 Springbok shirt, the number worn by captain Francois Pienaar, and the heroic defence which managed to contain the rampaging Jonah Lomu. It was, however, to prove to be the most controversial of finals over allegations that the All Blacks were deliberately food poisoned the week before the game, an allegation strongly denied by the South African authorities. The final result was a 15 – 12 victory for South Africa in what was an exciting yet try less game, and the fairytale was complete.
1999 Final: Australia v France. France gave a huge performance to beat the All Blacks in the semi final, and gave so much that they appeared to have nothing left in the tank come the final. Australia had been victorious against the Springboks and came to the final in good form, winning the final comfortably 35 – 12.
2003 Final: Australia v England. England had been very much the form team coming in to the tournament and were expected to do well, however Wales gave them an almighty scare in the Quarter final, with England coming from behind to end up as eventual winners. The biggest surprise was Australia beating the All Blacks to reach the final on their home turf. An exciting final, which, literally, came down to the last kick of the game in extra time went the way of England 20 – 17. Jonny Wilkinson was arguably the hero of the entire World Cup tournament with “that” drop goal.
2007 Final: South Africa v England. In what proved to be a very unpredictable tournament, with Australia and New Zealand failing to progress beyond the quarter finals, it was predicted to be a one sided final; a Strong South African side against an England side who weren’t in the best of form and were going through a transition following the departure of several key players from the 2003 victorious side. However England took the game to the Springboks and barring a controversial disallowed score, where Mark Cueto’s foot was adjudged to have been in touch when diving for the line, the result could have been even tighter. The Springboks finally took the game 15 – 6.
2011 Final: New Zealand v France. The last World Cup saw a low scoring but breathtaking final. France had beaten Wales by one point (9 – 8) to progress to the final, with New Zealand beating Australia by a slightly more convincing 20 – 6. Anyone who thought France would capitulate in the final, as they had in ’87 and 99, got it completely wrong. France took the game to New Zealand, and only some last ditch resolute defence by the All Blacks prevented them causing what would have been a major upset. The All Blacks won their second Webb Ellis cup, again on their home territory.
So, on to 2015 – a tournament that is far too tight to predict. As always the All Blacks appear to be the team in form, Their Championship decider against Australia this weekend will offer little in the way of predicting world cup results, however.
What we can predict is some thrilling rugby, and the odd upset along the way. Most of the teams that have qualified have progressed enormously over the last 5 years, with a lot of their players competing in the European or Southern hemisphere top flight.
Will the All Blacks, the Springboks or the Wallabies make it a third win?
Will England peak at the right time?
Will the dark horse Ireland quietly sneak up and take it?
Will the Gallic flair of the French return after what has been a miserable couple of seasons.
Will Wales get out of the group? And, if so, at who’s expense?!