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Rugby World Cup History

Rugby World Cup 1987

The inaugural Rugby World Cup was held in 1987. Four years previously, both the Australian Rugby Union and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union had submitted written proposals to the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) to suggest such a tournament take place. Each country was unaware of the other's application, but both countries were dismissed by the IRFB.

However, Australia was asked to conduct a feasibility study into holding such a tournament; their response was to pool resources with New Zealand to conduct the research, in order to present the information at the IRFB's annual meeting in March 1985, held at the Headquarters of French Railways in Paris.

1987 was agreed as the year to stage the ground-breaking event; Australia had originally wished the tournament to coincide with their Bicentenary in 1988. However, 1987 avoided clashes with major sporting events such as the Olympic Games (held in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea), FIFA Football World Cup (held in 1986 in Mexico and 1990 in Italy) and the Commonwealth Games (held in 1986 in Edinburgh, Scotland and 1990 in Auckland, New Zealand).

At the IRFB meeting in the French Capital a vote was conducted between the eight IRFB members; Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Wales originally showed lukewarm sentiment towards the idea of a tournament, France were in favour only provided that countries from outside the eight IRFB nations were invited to take part; they wanted developing rugby nations included.

The vote came down in favour of a Rugby World Cup by six votes to two. Ireland and Scotland cast negative votes as the Rugby World Cup appeared to threaten the amateur status of the sport of rugby union. Amateurism was under constant threat; as a way of protecting the amateur ethos, any form of officially recognised competition was usually shunned. South Africa, although aware that their participation would not be granted due to an international sports boycott because of the Apartheid regime, voted in favour of the tournament.

However momentous the result was, there was no commitment to further Rugby World Cups beyond 1987. An International Board Tournament Committee was formed, including the late Wales and British Lions lock, Keith Rowlands. The decision to hold the Rugby World Cup left only two years to lay the foundations of this unprecedented event. New Zealand would host the event with neighbouring Australia acting a sub-host.

The competition would see sixteen starting teams split into four pools; three pools would be based in New Zealand and the other in Australia. Seven of the places in the competition were filled by the IRFB members, with South Africa replaced by Argentina. With no official qualification process in place to fill the remaining spaces, invitations were sent out to other countries that included Fiji, Tonga, Japan, Canada, Romania, Zimbabwe, Italy and the USA. The Rugby World Cup was not without political tension, despite the fact that the Springboks were not included; following a military coup in Fiji, Western Samoa (now Samoa) were put on standby to take their place should the need arise.

The inaugural match of the tournament took place on Friday 22nd May 1987 between New Zealand and Italy at Eden Park in Auckland. As expected, the hosts won convincingly 70-6 with Michael Jones, Grant Fox and Oscar Collodo scoring the first ever Rugby World Cup try, conversion and penalty respectively.

The tournament as a whole witnessed fairly one-sided matches. The IRFB members proved too strong for the less established teams, and all seven made their way into the quarter finals. Imbalance between the contestants was obvious; half of the matches in the pool stages saw one team score forty or more points and five of the seven highest-scoring Rugby World Cup matches took place, to date, in the opening tournament.

Wales, despite unconvincing wins, topped Pool 2 with maximum points gained from three victories against Ireland, Tonga and Canada. They progressed into the quarter final stages, meeting pool runners-up and home nation rival England.

The first quarter-final saw an ever dominant New Zealand side take on Scotland. They proved too strong for the Scots and won 30-3 in Christchurch, sending the first of the British teams home. France, who had drawn the only non IRFB member in the quarter finals, Fiji, dashed the hopes of the minnows with a 31-16 victory at Eden Park, ensuring that the last stages of the competition would be filled with only board-member nations. Co-hosts Australia staged the remaining two quarter-finals; the home side were 33-15 winners over Ireland, keeping the two host nations in the tournament. Wales, despite entering their match as the underdogs, beat England 3-16 in a truly dismal performance by the old enemy.

Notwithstanding Wales's triumph of entering the semi-finals, their latter-stage match can be described as anything but triumphant. In a truly one-sided affair, the New Zealanders decimated Wales in unstoppable style. In a 49-6 win, in which the Kiwis notched up eight tries, Huw Richards took away one of the lesser 'Rugby World Cup Firsts' awards; the first man to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup match.

Australia and France met in Sydney a day prior to the New Zealand v Wales clash in a match regarded as a Rugby World Cup classic. One of the greatest ever Rugby World Cup matches saw France clinch a shock win during a game in which Australia led three times. French winger, Serge Blanco, conjured up a moment of magic late on, scoring a try to take the final score to 30-24 and France into the final with the irrepressible All Blacks.

Wales proceeded into a third place play off with Australia and secured their best result in the Rugby World Cup to date. In a tightly fought match, Wales finished third, shocking the co-hosts and regaining their dignity after the mauling by the All Blacks. 34,000 spectators witnessed the match, in which Wallaby flanker David Codey was sent off at a fourth minute ruck. An injury time try from Adrian Hadley and conversion from Paul Thorburn, taken under immense pressure as Wales trailed by one point, handed Wales their win against a depleted fourteen man side. It would be eighteen years until Wales would again triumph over Australia in a senior international match.

Sapped by their gutsy semi-final showing, France's final proved a match too far with New Zealand. The All Blacks, without doubt the greatest team in the tournament, notched up a 29-9 win in a final which proved anti-climatic compared to France's semi-final display.

New Zealand Captain, David Kirk, lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy, a feat that has to date not been emulated by another New Zealander. In the 1987 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand's point tally was 298 points with 43 tries scored in six matches, 126 of them by fly half Grant Fox. This tournament record still stands today.

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