Rugby World Cup

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Rugby World Cup
Rugby World Cup Trophy.JPG
The Webb Ellis Cup is awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup
SportRugby union
Number of teams20
RegionsWorldwide (World Rugby)
HoldersFlag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand (2015)
Most titlesFlag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand (3 titles)

The Rugby World Cup, through the upcoming 2019 edition, is a men's rugby union tournament contested every four years between the top international teams. The tournament was first held in 1987, when the tournament was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

Rugby union Team sport, code of rugby football

Rugby union, widely known simply as rugby, is a contact team sport which originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is between two teams of 15 players using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field with H-shaped goalposts at each end.


The winners are awarded the Webb Ellis Cup, named after William Webb Ellis, the Rugby School pupil who, according to a popular legend, invented rugby by picking up the ball during a football game. Four countries have won the trophy; New Zealand three times, Australia and South Africa each twice, and England once. New Zealand are the current champions, having defeated Australia in the final of the 2015 tournament in England.

Webb Ellis Cup trophy

The Webb Ellis Cup is the trophy awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup, the premier competition in men's international rugby union. The Cup is named after William Webb Ellis, who is often credited as the inventor of rugby football. The trophy is silver gilt and has been presented to the winner of the Rugby World Cup since the first competition in 1987. It has been held three times by New Zealand, twice by Australia and South Africa, and once by England in 2003.

William Webb Ellis Anglican clergyman who is famous for allegedly being the inventor of Rugby football

The Reverend William Webb Ellis was an English Anglican clergyman and the alleged inventor of rugby football while a pupil at Rugby School. According to legend, Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it during a school football match in 1823, thus creating the 'rugby' style of play. Although the story has become firmly entrenched in the sport's folklore, it is not supported by substantive evidence, and is discounted by most rugby historians as an origin myth.

Rugby School school in Warwickshire, UK

Rugby School is a day and mostly boarding co-educational independent school in Rugby, Warwickshire, England. Founded in 1567 as a free grammar school for local boys, it is one of the oldest independent schools in Britain. Up to 1667, the school remained in comparative obscurity. Its re-establishment by Thomas Arnold during his time as Headmaster, from 1828 to 1841, was seen as the forerunner of the Victorian public school. It is one of the original seven Great Nine Public Schools defined by the Clarendon Commission of 1864. Rugby School was also the birthplace of Rugby football. In 1845, a committee of Rugby schoolboys wrote the "Laws of Football as Played At Rugby School", the first published set of laws for any code of football.

The tournament is administered by World Rugby, the sport's international governing body. Sixteen teams were invited to participate in the inaugural tournament in 1987, however since 1999 twenty teams have taken part. Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and France will host in 2023.

World Rugby rugby union international governing body

World Rugby is the world governing body for the sport of rugby union. World Rugby organises the Rugby World Cup every four years, the sport's most recognised and most profitable competition. It also organises a number of other international rugby competitions, such as the World Rugby Sevens Series, the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the World Under 20 Championship, and the Pacific Nations Cup.

2019 Rugby World Cup 9th Rugby World Cup

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be the ninth Rugby World Cup, and is to be held in Japan from 20 September to 2 November. This will be the first time the tournament is to be held in Asia, and outside the traditional heartland of rugby union.

2023 Rugby World Cup

The 2023 Rugby World Cup, to be hosted by France, is scheduled to be the tenth Rugby World Cup, taking place in the year of the 200th anniversary of the 'invention' of the sport by William Webb Ellis from 8 September to 21 October. The final will take place at the Stade de France.

On 21 August 2019, World Rugby announced that gender designations would be removed from the titles of the men's and women's World Cups. Accordingly, all future World Cups for men and women will officially bear the "Rugby World Cup" name. The first tournament to be affected by the new policy will be the next women's tournament to be held in New Zealand in 2021, which will officially be titled as "Rugby World Cup 2021". [1]



Qualifying tournaments were introduced for the second tournament, where eight of the sixteen places were contested in a twenty-four-nation tournament. [2] The inaugural World Cup in 1987, did not involve any qualifying process; instead, the 16 places were automatically filled by seven eligible International Rugby Football Board (IRFB, now World Rugby) member nations, and the rest by invitation. [3]

The 1991 Rugby World Cup was the second edition of the Rugby World Cup, and was jointly hosted by England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France: at the time, the five European countries who participated in the Five Nations Championship. This was the first Rugby World Cup to be staged in the northern hemisphere, with England the hosts of the championship game. Once again, South Africa was not represented due to international sanctions imposed upon the "Springboks" by the IRB, due to the Apartheid Government policies. Following on from the success of the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup, the 1991 World Cup received increased attention and was seen as a major global sporting event for the first time. Also for the first time, qualifying competitions were introduced as the number of entrants had increased from 16 nations four years before to a total of 33 countries. The eight quarter-finalists from 1987 qualified automatically with the remaining eight spots contested through qualifiers by 25 countries. This however resulted in only one new side qualifying for the tournament, Western Samoa replacing Tonga. The same 16-team pool/knock-out format was used with just minor changes to the points system.

The 1987 Rugby World Cup was the first Rugby World Cup. New Zealand and Australia agreed to co-host the tournament. New Zealand hosted 20 matches – 17 pool stage matches, two quarter-finals and the final – while Australia hosted 12 matches – seven pool matches, two quarter-finals and both semi-finals. The event was won by co-hosts New Zealand, who were the strong favourites and won all their matches comfortably. France were losing finalists, and Wales surprise third-place winners: Australia, having been second favourites, finished fourth after conceding crucial tries in the dying seconds of both the semi-final against France and the third-place play-off against Wales.

In 2003 and 2007, the qualifying format allowed for eight of the twenty available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the eight quarter finalists of the previous tournament enter its successor. The remaining twelve positions were filled by continental qualifying tournaments. [4] Positions were filled by three teams from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, three from Europe and two from Oceania. [4] Another two places were allocated for repechage. The first repechage place was determined by a match between the runners-up from the Africa and Europe qualifying tournaments, with that winner then playing the Americas runner-up to determine the place. [5] The second repechage position was determined between the runners-up from the Asia and Oceania qualifiers. [5]

Continent Very large landmass identified by convention

A continent is one of several very large landmasses. This type of landmass is known to exist only on Earth. Generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continents. Ordered from largest in area to smallest, they are: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

Repechage practice amongst ladder competitions

Repechage is a practice in series competitions that allows participants who failed to meet qualifying standards by a small margin to continue to the next round, in a similar way as a wild card system works out.

The current format allows for 12 of the 20 available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the teams who finish third or better in the group (pool) stages of the previous tournament enter its successor (where they will be seeded). [6] [7] The qualification system for the remaining eight places is region-based, with a total eight teams allocated for Europe, five for Oceania, three for the Americas, two for Africa, and one for Asia. The last place is determined by an intercontinental play-off. [8]


The 2015 tournament involved twenty nations competing over six weeks. [7] [9] There were two stages, a pool and a knockout. Nations were divided into four pools, A through to D, of five nations each. [9] [10] The teams were seeded before the start of the tournament, with the seedings taken from the World Rankings in December 2012. The four highest-ranked teams were drawn into pools A to D. The next four highest-ranked teams were then drawn into pools A to D, followed by the next four. The remaining positions in each pool were filled by the qualifiers. [7] [11]

Nations play four pool games, playing their respective pool members once each. [10] A bonus points system is used during pool play. If two or more teams are level on points, a system of criteria is used to determine the higher ranked; the sixth and final criterion decides the higher rank through the official World Rankings. [10]

The winner and runner-up of each pool enter the knockout stage. The knockout stage consists of quarter- and semi-finals, and then the final. The winner of each pool is placed against a runner-up of a different pool in a quarter-final. The winner of each quarter-final goes on to the semi-finals, and the respective winners proceed to the final. Losers of the semi-finals contest for third place, called the 'Bronze Final'. If a match in the knockout stages ends in a draw, the winner is determined through extra time. If that fails, the match goes into sudden death and the next team to score any points is the winner. As a last resort, a kicking competition is used. [10]


A scrum between Samoa (in blue) and Wales (in red) during the 2011 World Cup 2011 Rugby World Cup Wales vs Samoa (6168183024).jpg
A scrum between Samoa (in blue) and Wales (in red) during the 2011 World Cup

Prior to the Rugby World Cup, there was no truly global rugby union competition, but there were a number of other tournaments. One of the oldest is the annual Six Nations Championship, which started in 1883 as the Home Nations Championship, a tournament between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It expanded to the Five Nations in 1910, when France joined the tournament. France did not participate from 1931 to 1939, during which period it reverted to a Home Nations championship. In 2000, Italy joined the competition, which became the Six Nations. [12]

Rugby union was also played at the Summer Olympic Games, first appearing at the 1900 Paris games and subsequently at London in 1908, Antwerp in 1920, and Paris again in 1924. France won the first gold medal, then Australasia, with the last two being won by the United States. However rugby union ceased to be on Olympic program after 1924. [13] [14] [lower-alpha 1]

The idea of a Rugby World Cup had been suggested on numerous occasions going back to the 1950s, but met with opposition from most unions in the IRFB. [15] The idea resurfaced several times in the early 1980s, with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU; now known as Rugby Australia) in 1983, and the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU; now known as New Zealand Rugby) in 1984 independently proposing the establishment of a world cup. [16] A proposal was again put to the IRFB in 1985 and this time successfully passed 10–6. The delegates from Australia, France, New Zealand and South Africa all voted for the proposal, and the delegates from Ireland and Scotland against; the English and Welsh delegates were split, with one from each country for and one against. [15] [16]

The inaugural tournament, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, was held in May and June 1987, with sixteen nations taking part. [17] New Zealand became the first ever champions, defeating France 29–9 in the final. [18] The subsequent 1991 tournament was hosted by England, with matches played throughout Britain, Ireland and France. This tournament saw the introduction of a qualifying tournament; eight places were allocated to the quarter-finalists from 1987, and the remaining eight decided by a thirty-five nation qualifying tournament. [2] Australia won the second tournament, defeating England 12–6 in the final. [19]

In 1992, eight years after their last official series, [lower-alpha 2] South Africa hosted New Zealand in a one-off test match. The resumption of international rugby in South Africa came after the dismantling of the apartheid system, and was only done with permission of the African National Congress. [20] [21] With their return to test rugby, South Africa were selected to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup. [22] After upsetting Australia in the opening match, South Africa continued to advance through the tournament until they met New Zealand in the final. [23] [24] After a tense final that went into extra time, South Africa emerged 15–12 winners, [25] with then President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey, [24] presenting the trophy to South Africa's captain, Francois Pienaar. [26]

The tournament in 1999 was hosted by Wales with matches also being held throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, Ireland and France. The tournament included a repechage system, [27] alongside specific regional qualifying places, [28] and an increase from sixteen to twenty participating nations. [29] Australia claimed their second title, defeating France in the final. [30]

The 2003 event was hosted by Australia, although it was originally intended to be held jointly with New Zealand. England emerged as champions defeating Australia in extra time. England's win was unique in that it broke the southern hemisphere's dominance in the event. Such was the celebration of England's victory that an estimated 750,000 people gathered in central London to greet the team, making the day the largest sporting celebration of its kind ever in the United Kingdom. [31]

The 2007 competition was hosted by France, with matches also being held in Wales and Scotland. South Africa claimed their second title by defeating defending champions England 15–6. The 2011 tournament was awarded to New Zealand in November 2005, ahead of bids from Japan and South Africa. The All Blacks reclaimed their place atop the rugby world with a narrow 8–7 win over France in the 2011 final.

In the 2015 edition of tournament, hosted by England, New Zealand once again won the final, this time against established rivals, Australia. In doing so, they became the first team in World Cup history to win three titles, as well as the first to successfully defend a title. It was also New Zealand's first title victory on foreign soil.


The Webb Ellis Cup is the prize presented to winners of the Rugby World Cup, named after William Webb Ellis. The trophy is also referred to simply as the Rugby World Cup. The trophy was chosen in 1987 as an appropriate cup for use in the competition, and was created in 1906 by Garrard's Crown Jewellers. [32] [33] The trophy is restored after each game by fellow Royal Warrant holder Thomas Lyte. [34] [35] The words 'The International Rugby Football Board' and 'The Webb Ellis Cup' are engraved on the face of the cup. It stands thirty-eight centimetres high and is silver gilded in gold, and supported by two cast scroll handles, one with the head of a satyr, and the other a head of a nymph. [36] In Australia the trophy is colloquially known as "Bill" — a reference to William Webb Ellis.

Selection of hosts

Tournaments are organised by Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL), which is itself owned by World Rugby. The selection of host is decided by a vote of World Rugby Council members. [37] [38] The voting procedure is managed by a team of independent auditors, and the voting kept secret. The allocation of a tournament to a host nation is now made five or six years prior to the commencement of the event, for example New Zealand were awarded the 2011 event in late 2005.

The tournament has been hosted by multiple nations. For example, the 1987 tournament was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. World Rugby requires that the hosts must have a venue with a capacity of at least 60,000 spectators for the final. [39] Host nations sometimes construct or upgrade stadia in preparation for the World Cup, such as Millennium Stadium – purpose built for the 1999 tournament – and Eden Park, upgraded for 2011. [39] [40] The first country outside of the traditional rugby nations of SANZAAR or the Six Nations to be awarded the hosting rights was Japan, who will host the 2019 tournament. France will host the 2023 tournament.

Tournament growth

Media coverage

Organizers of the Rugby World Cup, as well as the Global Sports Impact, state that the Rugby World Cup is the third largest sporting event in the World, behind only the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, [41] [42] although other sources question whether this is accurate. [43]

Reports emanating from World Rugby and its business partners have frequently touted the tournament's media growth, with cumulative worldwide television audiences of 300 million for the inaugural 1987 tournament, 1.75 billion in 1991, 2.67 billion in 1995, 3 billion in 1999, [44] 3.5 billion in 2003, [45] and 4 billion in 2007. [46] The 4 billion figure was widely dismissed as the global audience for television is estimated to be about 4.2 billion. [47]

However, independent reviews have called into question the methodology of those growth estimates, pointing to factual inconsistencies. [48] The event's supposed drawing power outside of a handful of rugby strongholds was also downplayed significantly, with an estimated 97 percent of the 33 million average audience produced by the 2007 final coming from Australasia, South Africa, the British Isles and France. [49] Other sports have been accused of exaggerating their television reach over the years; such claims are not exclusive to the Rugby World Cup.

While the event's global popularity remains a matter of dispute, high interest in traditional rugby nations is well documented. The 2003 final, between Australia and England, became the most watched rugby union match in the history of Australian television. [50]


Attendance figures [51]
YearHost(s)Total attendanceMatchesAvg attendance% change
in avg att.
Stadium capacityAttendance as
% of capacity
1987 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia
Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand
1991 Flag of England.svg England
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Wales
Flag of France.svg France
Flag of Ireland.svg Ireland
Flag of Scotland.svg Scotland
1995 Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa 1,100,0003234,375+9%1,423,85077%
1999 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Wales 1,750,0004142,683+24%2,104,50083%
2003 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia 1,837,5474838,282–10%2,208,52983%
2007 Flag of France.svg France 2,263,2234847,150+23%2,470,66092%
2011 Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 1,477,2944830,777–35%1,732,00085%
2015 Flag of England.svg England 2,477,8054851,621+68%2,600,74195%
2019 Flag of Japan.svg Japan To be determined48To be determined
2023 Flag of France.svg France To be determined48To be determined


Revenue for Rugby World Cup tournaments [51]
Source 1987 1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011 2015 2019
Gate receipts (M £)----155581147131----
Broadcasting (M £)----1944608293----
Sponsorship (M £)----818162829----




YearHost(s)FinalBronze FinalNumber of teams
WinnerScoreRunner-up3rd placeScore4th place
1987 Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand
Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia
Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
29–9 Flag of France.svg
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg
22–21 Flag of Australia (converted).svg
1991 Flag of Europe.svg Europe Flag of Australia (converted).svg
12–6 Flag of England.svg
Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
13–6 Flag of Scotland.svg
1995 Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa Flag of South Africa.svg
South Africa
( aet )
Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
Flag of France.svg
19–9 Flag of England.svg
1999 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Wales Flag of Australia (converted).svg
35–12 Flag of France.svg
Flag of South Africa.svg
South Africa
22–18 Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
2003 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia Flag of England.svg
( aet )
Flag of Australia (converted).svg
Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
40–13 Flag of France.svg
2007 Flag of France.svg France Flag of South Africa.svg
South Africa
15–6 Flag of England.svg
Flag of Argentina.svg
34–10 Flag of France.svg
2011 Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
8–7 Flag of France.svg
Flag of Australia (converted).svg
21–18 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg
2015 Flag of England.svg England Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
34–17 Flag of Australia (converted).svg
Flag of South Africa.svg
South Africa
24–13 Flag of Argentina.svg
2019 Flag of Japan.svg Japan To be determinedTo be determined20
2023 Flag of France.svg France To be determinedTo be determined

Performance of nations

Map of nations' best results (excluding qualifying tournaments). Rugby world cup countries best results and hosts rev1.png
Map of nations' best results (excluding qualifying tournaments).

Twenty-five nations have participated at the Rugby World Cup (excluding qualifying tournaments). Of the eight tournaments that have been held, all but one have been won by a national team from the southern hemisphere. [52] The southern hemisphere's dominance has been broken only in 2003, when England beat Australia in the final. [52]

Thus far the only nations to host and win a tournament are New Zealand (1987 and 2011) and South Africa (1995). The performance of other host nations includes England (1991 final hosts) and Australia (2003 hosts) finishing runners-up. France (2007 hosts) finished fourth, while Wales (1999 hosts) failed to reach the semi-finals. Wales became the first host nation to be eliminated at the pool stages in 1991, while, England became the first solo host nation to be eliminated at the pool stages in 2015. Of the twenty-five nations that have ever participated in at least one tournament, eleven of them have never missed a tournament. [lower-alpha 3]

Team records

TeamChampionsRunners-upThirdFourthQuarterfinalsTop 8
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 3 (1987, 2011, 2015)1 (1995)2 (1991, 2003)1 (1999)1 (2007)8
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 2 (1991, 1999)2 (2003, 2015)1 (2011)1 (1987)2 (1995, 2007)8
Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 2 (1995, 2007)2 (1999, 2015)2 (2003, 2011)6
Flag of England.svg  England 1 (2003)2 (1991, 2007)1 (1995)3 (1987, 1999, 2011)7
Flag of France.svg  France 3 (1987, 1999, 2011)1 (1995)2 (2003, 2007)2 (1991, 2015)8
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales 1 (1987)1 (2011)3 (1999, 2003, 2015)5
Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina 1 (2007)1 (2015)2 (1999, 2011)4
Flag of Scotland.svg  Scotland 1 (1991)6 (details)7
IRFU flag.svg  Ireland 6 (details)6
Flag of Fiji.svg  Fiji 2 (1987, 2007)2
Flag of Samoa.svg  Samoa 2 (1991, 1995)2
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 1 (1991)1

Records and statistics

Gavin Hastings is one of four players to have kicked a record eight penalties in a single World Cup match. Gavin Hastings.jpg
Gavin Hastings is one of four players to have kicked a record eight penalties in a single World Cup match.

The record for most points overall is held by English player Jonny Wilkinson, who scored 277 over his World Cup career. [53] Grant Fox of New Zealand holds the record for most points in one competition, with 126 in 1987; [53] Jason Leonard of England holds the record for most World Cup matches: 22 between 1991 and 2003. [53] Simon Culhane holds the record for most points in a match by one player, 45, as well as the record for most conversions in a match, 20. [54] Marc Ellis holds the record for most tries in a match, six, which he scored against Japan in 1995. [55]

All Black Jonah Lomu is the youngest player to appear in a final – aged 20 years and 43 days at the 1995 Final. [56] Lomu shares 2 records with South African Bryan Habana. Most tries in a tournament (8): Lomu in 1999 and Habana in 2007 and total world cup tournament tries, both scored 15. [55] The record for most penalties in a match is 8, held by Matt Burke, Gonzalo Quesada, Gavin Hastings and Thierry Lacroix, [54] and the record for most penalties in a tournament, 31, is held by Gonzalo Quesada. South Africa's Jannie de Beer kicked five drop-goals against England in 1999 – an individual record for a single World Cup match. [56]

The most points scored in a game is 145 — by the All Blacks against Japan in 1995, while the widest winning margin is 142, held by Australia in a match against Namibia in 2003. [57]

A total of 16 players have been sent off (red carded) in the tournament. Welsh lock Huw Richards was the first, while playing against New Zealand in 1987. No player has been red carded more than once. [54]

See also

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Printed sources


  1. However an exhibition tournament did take place at the 1936 Games. Rugby was reintroduced to the Olympics in 2016, but as men's and women's rugby sevens (i.e., seven-a-side rugby). [13]
  2. Against England in 1984. [20]
  3. Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales and Canada are the nations that have never missed a tournament, playing in all seven thus far. South Africa has played in all five in the post-apartheid era. Romania failed to qualify for 2019.


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