|Rugby World Cup – a walk down
The seventh edition of the
Rugby World Cup will kick off in New Zealand on
September 9. The Nation brings to its readers in a
series beginning today the origins of the tournament
and the inaugural tournament held in 1987.
Rugby World Cup - The Origins
The notion of a Rugby World Cup had first been
contemplated in 1979, but it was not until late-1983
that the Australian Rugby Union and New Zealand
Rugby Football Union submitted written proposals to
the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB).
Neither was aware of the other’s proposal with
Australia wanting to stage a tournament to coincide
with their Bicentenary in 1988 and New Zealand
proposing the previous year.
Both proposals were turned down but Australia and
New Zealand pooled their resources to conduct a
feasibility study, which would then be presented at
the IRFB’s annual meeting in March 1985.
Australia and New Zealand settled on 1987 as the
year, whereby avoiding any clash with the Olympic
Games and FIFA World Cup, and a vote was held on the
proposal at the IRFB meeting in the French capital
The vote between the eight IRFB members – Australia,
New Zealand, South Africa, France, England,
Scotland, Ireland and Wales – came down in favour of
a World Cup by six votes to two.
Ireland and Scotland were against the proposal as
it appeared to threaten the amateur status of the
sport, while France was in favour only if countries
from outside the IRFB were invited to take part.
South Africa would not be allowed to take part in
any tournament, they were the subjects of an
international sports boycott because of the
apartheid regime, but nonetheless voted in favour.
The positive decision was an important one because
it ensured that a tournament, there were no plans
for a second at that stage, would be run by the
world body and not businessmen and television
companies interested in simply making money.
This green light left little more than two years
to lay the foundations of a tournament, which
finally provided the vehicle to establish a ‘world
champion’ and would be held in New Zealand with
Australia as sub-hosts.
Argentina were invited to take South Africa’s place
with other invitations extended to Fiji, Tonga,
Japan, Canada, Romania, Zimbabwe, Italy and the
United States for the 16-team tournament to be held
in May and June 1987.
These teams were split into four pools of four,
three of which were based in New Zealand with the
other, featuring Australia, hosted in Sydney and
Brisbane with the top two nations in each pool
progressing to the quarter-finals.
The inaugural match between New Zealand and Italy
took place on 22 May at Eden Park in Auckland, a
match the hosts won easily 70-6 and one which went a
long way to uniting a country divided by the
Cavaliers’ tour of South Africa in April 1986.
However the stadium was only half full, perhaps the
consequence of the match being played on a Friday,
but while New Zealanders embraced the World Cup in
Australia the tournament was struggling to capture
the public’s imagination.
That inaugural tournament saw 600,000 people pass
through the turnstiles with 300 million in 17
countries watching the action on television, figures
that would increase to 2.25 million and four billion
in 200 territories respectively for the 2007 event.
The Rugby World Cup is now established as the third
biggest sporting event behind the Olympic Games and
FIFA World Cup, having achieved its goal of merging
the traditional powers with new and emerging nations
to make it a truly worldwide sport.
One person who played a key role in this journey was
the late Vernon Pugh QC, the International Rugby
Board and Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman who was
instrumental in the expansion of the governing body.
Rugby World Cup 1987 (Champions: New Zealand)
The desire for a competition to determine the
pecking order in world rugby was realised following
the International Rugby Football Board’s (IRFB)
approval for an inaugural Rugby World Cup to be held
in New Zealand and Australia in 1987.
Seven of the 16 places were automatically filled
by the IRFB members – New Zealand, Australia,
England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France – with
South Africa unable to compete because of the
international sports boycott due to apartheid.
There would be no qualification process to fill the
remaining nine spots with invitations instead sent
out to Argentina, Fiji, Italy, Canada, Romania,
Tonga, Japan, Zimbabwe and the United States.
The inaugural match took place on 22 May between New
Zealand and Italy at Eden Park in Auckland, a match
the hosts won convincingly 70-6 with Michael Jones,
Grant Fox and Oscar Collodo scoring the first ever
try, conversion and penalty.
New Zealand was a country divided by the Cavaliers’
rebel tour to South Africa 13 months earlier, but
this match and a moment of inspiration from wing
John Kirwan would reunite the rugby-loving nation.
Kirwan, who ironically would become Italy coach more
than a decade later, received the ball near his own
line and took on virtually the entire Italian team
in a 70-metre run for his second try of the game.
This pattern of one-sided matches was a regular
occurrence with the seven IRFB members proving too
strong for the others – half of the 24 matches
across the four pools saw one team score 40 or more
points with no record score lasting very long.
The quarter-finals were, as expected, filled by
the seven IRFB members with Fiji, whose place in the
tournament had been in doubt because of a military
coup, completing the line-up.
In the first quarter-final New Zealand proved too
strong for Scotland and won 30-3 in Christchurch,
while the next day France, who had drawn with
Scotland in their first game, ended the hopes of the
entertainers from Fiji with a 31-16 victory at Eden
The other quarter-finals took place in Australia
with the home side, despite the loss of Nick
Farr-Jones after just three minutes, running out
33-15 winners over Ireland. The final match saw
Wales overcome England 16-13 in an uninspiring
Australia and France met in Sydney in a match
regarded by many as one of the greatest ever; one
Australia led three times but was clinched by a late
moment of magic from wing Serge Blanco with a try in
the corner to clinch a shock 30-24 win.
If the first semi-final had been a classic, the
second was a one-sided affair with New Zealand
simply unstoppable against Wales, scoring eight
tries in a 49-6 win in a game that saw Huw Richards
become the first player to be sent off at a Rugby
The final though proved a match too far for France
with New Zealand, who were unquestionably the best
team in the tournament, emerging the 29-9 winners to
allow captain David Kirk to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
New Zealand had scored 298 points in six matches,
126 of them by fly half Fox to set a tournament
record that still stands today, with 43 tries scored
and only four conceded emphasising their dominance.
Wales beat Australia 22-21 with a late try by Adrian
Hadley to finish third. – [IRB]
[To be continued]