History Boys

A definitive ranking of the best Rugby World Cups

Join us on a trip down memory lane.

THE UPCOMING TOURNAMENT hosted by England, looks set to be the biggest and most competitive in Rugby World Cup history.

The All Blacks have been dominant in the years between World Cups, and are 5-4 favourite to retain the title, however the rest of the world looks to be catching up to the world champions.

The 2014 Northern hemisphere tour displayed just how competitive world rugby has become, with the European teams helping themselves to a number of ‘upset’ victories over South Africa and Australia.

Now, with the competition drawing ever closer and the anticipation reaching fever pitch, what better time to look back and rank the Rugby World Cups that have come before it.

7. 1987 RWC – New Zealand and Australia

AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

No team has ever dominated a Rugby World Cup in the manner the All Blacks did in 1987. It was the inaugural tournament, held in New Zealand, and the home team were head and shoulders above the rest from the very beginning.

The All Blacks racked up a total of 269 points on their road to the final. They won all six of their games in convincing fashion, including a 29-9 defeat of France in the final.

They scored 43 tries and conceded just four.

6. 2007 RWC – France

Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

England made it all the way to the final in 2007, as they looked to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups. But they came up against a far superior South Africa team in the final.

South Africa, who had hammered England in the group stages, were comfortable enough winners with a scoreline of 15-6. But it was a largely forgettable tournament, particular if you were an Irish fan.

It was a disaster of a tournament from the start. After two unimpressive wins against Namibia and Georgia, Ireland were easily dispatched 25-3 by France. They had a mountain to climb going into their final group game with Argentina. They lost that game 30-15, crashing out at the pool stage for the very first time.

5. 1999 RWC – Wales

Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The 1999 Rugby World Cup was not one to remember for Ireland. The loss to Argentina , the darlings of the tournament, particularly stands out. In truth, the tournament wasn’t a memorable one in general but it did feature one sensational weekend of rugby with two of the best games in the history of the competition. 

The semi-finals will be long remembered for the French upsetting New Zealand, and the day before that, a truly classic encounter between Australia and South Africa.

4. 1991 RWC – UK, France and Ireland

Nick Farr-Jones and David Campese 1991 Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The 1991 Rugby World Cup was the first to be staged in the northern hemisphere. It was jointly hosted by England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland  and France – who were at the time, the five participants in the Five Nations Championship.

The tournament was not dominated by any one team, unlike the 1987 tournament. An example of this was Western Somoa’s upset victory over Wales in Cardiff, which saw the Welsh eliminated from the tournament.

The match of the tournament was, arguably, the match between Ireland and Australia in Lansdowne Road. It took a last-gap try from Michael Lynagh to secure a 19-18 victory for the Aussies. But the moment of the match, and one of the most memorable in RWC history, is when Gordon Hamilton outpaced Australian winger David Campese over half the length of the pitch to give Ireland the lead.

New Century Publishing / YouTube

 3. 2011 RWC – New Zealand

Simon Baker Simon Baker

The 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand had something for everyone. For Irish fans, there was the inspired performance in which they defied all the odds to beat Australia.

There was no shortage of excitement matches and moments. From the semi-final between Wales and France, which featured an extremely divisive refereeing decision, to Tonga’s unlikely victory over France, it was an extremely exciting tournament.

The lasting memory of the tournament, however, will be the emotional scenes after the game as New Zealand celebrated their first World Cup win since 1987 on home soil.

2. 2003 RWC – Australia

Martin Johnson 22/11/2003 ©INPHO ©INPHO

The 2003 Rugby World Cup was staged in Australia. It was the first time a team had attempted to defend the Webb Ellis trophy on home soil. There was also a change in the tournament layout, with the competition now consisting of four pools of five competing nations.

The most memorable moment of the whole tournament took place in the closing moments of the final. Jonny Wilkinson wrote himself into the history books with a successful drop goal to help England become the first northern hemisphere team to win the World Cup.

England Rugby / YouTube

1. 1995 RWC – South Africa


The Rugby World Cup in 1995 was so good it inspired a book and subsequent film. But it is significant for a number of other reasons. Not only was it the last tournament of the amateur era, it features Jonah Lomu at his peak and featured a number of memorable matches.

There are few moments in sporting history as poignant as when South African captain François Pienaar received the Webb Ellis Trophy from new President Nelson Mandela.

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