Background to the Rugby World Cup

Several proposals for a first ever world cup in rugby were made to the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But not until 1985 when New Zealand and Australia proposed to co-host an inaugural tournament was the concept of a World Cup seriously considered. Individual applications from both countries had been turned down in 1984, so they jointly conducted a feasibility study which was presented to a meeting of IRFB member unions in Paris in March 1985.

The motion was a controversial one among the IRFB's eight members. France supported the concept of a world competition only if countries from outside the IRFB were invited to take part. The ‘Home nations' of England, Wales, and in particular Ireland and Scotland, objected on the grounds that the tournament would change the game and would affect the amateur principle – a prediction that in time proved to be correct. Despite an international sports boycott that precluded South Africa from partaking in the competition, the country's delegation of Danie Craven and Fritz Eloff agreed to the proposal, bringing the overall vote to a stalemate with four members in favour and four against.

In a divisive about-turn, John Kendall-Carpenter of England also voted in favour of the tournament, and the Welsh delagation followed suit. The tournament was finally approved by six votes to two. It would take place in Australia and New Zealand from 22 May to 20 June 1987, giving the two host nations a little over two years to prepare.

Argentina was invited to take South Africa's place at the tournament with additional invitations extended to Fiji, Tonga, Japan, Canada, Romania, Zimbabwe, Italy and the United States. The 16  teams were split into four Pools, each with four teams. Three of the Pools which were based in New Zealand with the final Pool, featuring Australia, hosted by Sydney and Brisbane. Two nations from each Pool progressed 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 by 70 – 6. The win went a long way to uniting a country divided by the Cavaliers' tour of South Africa in April 1986. New Zealand went on to become the first world champions beating France 29 – 9 in the final at Eden Park, Auckland.

Subsequent world tournaments in 1991 and 1995 were preceded by a two year period of qualifying matches for IRFB members outside of the those competing in the Five Nations and Tri-Nations. The fourth world tournament held in 1999 had an expanded entry of 20 teams, qualifying through 133 matches worldwide from an original entry of 65 unions.

Australia is the only nation to have won the tournament twice – 1991 at Twickenham with Nick Farr-Jones as captain, Bob Dwyer, as coach; again in 1999  at Cardiff with John Eales as captain, Rod Macqueen as coach. Despite being favourites at the outset of most every world tournament, New Zealand has not won the world since 1987 (with David Kirk as captain, Brian Lochore as coach). Host nation South Africa won the 1995 tournament (Francois Pienaar as captain, Kitch Christie coach).

England  became the first northern hemisphere team to win the tournament at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney in 2003 where they defeated host nation Australia in extra-time. Martin Johnson was England's captain and Clive Woodward was coach.