The Rugby World Cup is held every four years and sees the top international rugby union teams compete for the William Webb Ellis Cup. Here’s a brief insight into the history of rugby union’s biggest prize.
Although rugby union has been around since the 19th century, it was not until 1987 that the first Rugby World Cup took place. The tournament was jointly hosted by New Zealand and Australia and over 600,000 people attended matches played in both countries. There was no qualification process for the competition at this time and so the 16 competing teams were automatically split into four leagues of four teams.
Within each pool, teams played each other once and were awarded two points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The top two teams at the end of the group stages then qualified for the knockout stages, which began with the quarter finals. The eventual winners of the first ever World Cup were New Zealand, who defeated France in the final.
The tournament has since continued with the same ‘group stage’ format, but, from the 1999 finals onwards, 20 teams compete instead of the previous 16. This change was accounted for with the creation of an extra pool.
The World Cup is hosted by a different country every four years and some of the hosts have included England, South Africa, France and Japan – with England being the tournaments home on three occasions.
There have only been four winners of the competition since its birth in 1987 with New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England all getting their hands on the prized William Webb Ellis Trophy. It is the Kiwis, however, who boast the best tournament record – winning three finals (1987, 2011 and 2015) and coming runners up in one, when they were memorably defeated by post-apartheid South Africa in 1995, watched by Nelson Mandela.
The most recent World Cup was held in England in 2015 and a near two and a half million people attended matches played across 13 stadiums. The tournament was eventually won by New Zealand, who defeated Australia in the final. The next tournament is to take place in 2019, with Japan chosen as the hosts. This will be the first time an Asian country has hosted the finals and it will be incredibly interesting to see how the country reacts to the sport, with it becoming a burgeoning cultural pastime. Also of interest will be how the players adapt to the local climate.