The concept of a Rugby World Cup was first embraced by New Zealand and Australia in the mid-eighties where the inaugural event was held in 1987.
Rugby World Cup has become established as a major international event in just over 30 years, with the strategy of using the event to showcase rugby to the world successfully resulting in the rapid expansion of the sport.
16 countries arrived in New Zealand and Australia in 1987 to do battle for the new Webb Ellis Cup. The tournament was a far cry from the global occasion RWC has now become, but the competition was fierce and compelling. Eventually New Zealand triumphed over France in the final.
In 1991, England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales jointly hosted the tournament. Both the opening match and the final were held at Twickenham. The home side, England went about the tournament with a confidence to uproot the favourites of the southern hemisphere. A young and dynamic Australian team swept all in its path and went on to win the final over disappointed hosts England.
Having established itself as a global sporting event, RWC moved to South Africa in 1995 only 13 months after Nelson Mandela has become president in the country’s first democratic election. The euphoria of hosting a world event for the first time played heavily in the host’s favour who went on to win the final after a dramatic extra time period against tournament favourites, New Zealand.
The powerful images of the event in South Africa carried over to Wales in 1999 and RWC viewing figures and revenue to a significant leap forward. Rugby as a sport was growing dramatically due mainly to success of RWC and tournament participation was increased to 20 teams. The semi-final exit of New Zealand to France was an unexpected result; however France could not maintain momentum and Australia were crowned the champions.
RWC has truly become a global occasion, as television interest, ticket sales, international travel and corporate market results bore testament to. In the most stunning Rugby Final of all time, England clinched the trophy with a dramatic goal-drop deep in extra time.
The excitement and passion for RWC proved even more intense than 2003, as the event was hosted with typical Gallic flair across a proud and hospitable France. In the country of flamboyant Rugby, the tournament took its cue with a series of thrilling matches and unpredictable results. The final, against a South African team that had quietly and confidently dispatched all in its path, was true to the occasion – hard fought and physical at all levels. Eventually South Africa prevailed over England and another thrilling RWC chapter came to a close.
The hosts held on to a nail-biting final but RWC 2011 was also a tournament where emerging nations reiterated how they are closing the gap on the traditional power houses.
The 2015 RWC was the eighth tournament. The tournament was hosted by England. Hosts England were eliminated at the pool stage; this was the first time in the tournament’s history that a solo host nation failed to progress to the knockout stages, and only the second time any host nation failed to progress to the knockout stages. Reigning champions New Zealand won the cup and defended their title by defeating Australia in the final. New Zealand were the first team to retain their title, and the first to win for a third time.1