Owain Jones looks at seven of the biggest Rugby World Cup shocks to take place during the tournament.
Rugby World Cup Greatest Shocks
With eight tournaments completed, the Rugby World Cup has produced some amazing moments throughout its history, including some of the greatest shocks to ever happen in the sport.
Bearing this in mind, Owain Jones takes a look at seven of the greatest, starting with the biggest of all, Japan’s colossal victory over the Springboks in 2015.
Truly one of the genuine ‘I was there’ moments in sport, let alone rugby. Brighton rocked, as South Africa, two-time winners of the competition, stuttered their way through a game but just could not shake their energetic opponents who had been expertly coached by then Japan coaches, Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick. Despite the heroics of Ayumu Goromaru, who contributed 24 points, Japan, who hadn’t won a World Cup game since 1991, looked like they would fall agonisingly short with their gallant efforts before the ball was worked out to Kiwi-born Karne Hesketh who slid in, in the corner late on. Cue pandemonium in the stands and some heavy soul-searching from anyone affiliated to South African rugby.
Little was known about the Western Samoa side that pitched up at the national stadium 28 years ago. A packed-out crowd expected some hard-hitting turbulence early on but for the natural order to see them emerging victorious. Sadly for Wales, the Pacific Islanders hadn’t read the script and they unleashed an exhibition of shock and awe to batter Welsh ball-carriers, leaving several players, including Phil May, Richie Collins and Tony Clement unable to continue. On the final whistle they received much applause from the Welsh crowd for their efforts. Some of those Samoan players, Brian Lima, Pat Lam, Frank Bunce and Apollo Perelini went on to enjoy stellar careers, in a result that reverberated around the world. One wag summed it up, by quipping, ‘thank heavens we weren’t playing the whole of Samoa’.
Such was the magnitude of this quarter-final victory that France’s main channel TF1 presented a newsflash on the result. It’s not hard to see why. At the break, France were 24-10 down, with Jonah Lomu being escorted to the line by some lacklustre tackling from Les Bleus, but the second half saw a Kiwi capitulation, as some Gallic magic unfolded, scoring 33 points to New Zealand’s seven, with Christophe Lamaison masterminding the comeback and going through the scorecard with 28 points, and flyers Philippe Bernat-Salles and Christophe Dominici joining the party to run in glorious scores to leave New Zealand in a state of mourning.
This was to be Wales’ last win over their Antipodean rivals for 18 years and gives you some sort of context as to why this result was so unexpected. The Wallabies under Alan Jones had been expected to canter to the final but were knocked out in the semi-finals by a Serge Blanco try for France. Even so, there was talk that Australia would just have to pitch up to beat a Welsh side heavily mauled by the All Blacks but the sending off of Wallaby David Codey gave Richard Moriarty’s men, hope and stellar performances from John Devereaux and Jonathan Davies saw Wales staying in touch until the dying minutes when Adrian Hadley powered over in the corner. It was left to a nerveless touchline Paul Thorburn to clinch the victory and take third place.
After the fireworks of 1999, there was no lack of warning for heavy World Cup favourites, New Zealand, yet under intense scrutiny in Cardiff, they wilted. Les Bleus served note of their intent by staring down the Haka, and despite dominating the first-half, the All Blacks failed to capitalise on the scoreboard. Early in the second-half, Luke McAlister wa sin-binned and a try from Thierry Dusautoir set up a grandstand finish. Yannick Jauzion applied the finishing touches with minutes to go and Graham Henry’s men, without a clear kicker, failed to go for the drop-goal that would have rescued the disappointment of a nation.
There will be some die-hard fans from Durban to Pretoria who will argue that the Springboks’ first World Cup win was far from a shock but to the neutral, a side featuring Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson, Andrew Mehrtens and Zinzan Brooke, one that had eviscerated all opponents on the way to the final, would be clear favourites to win a second World Cup. Joost van der Westhuizen, Os du Randt and friends had other ideas as they put in the defensive performance of their lives to keep the All Blacks at bay, before Joel Stransky bisected the posts with a sweetly struck drop-goal in extra time to leave the All Blacks, yet again, crestfallen.
Ireland, were far from the finished product seen in 2018. They’d entered the World Cup with patchy form and sat six places behind Australia in the World Rankings for the Pool C game in Auckland. The Wallabies were reigning Tri-Nations champions and were not expected to encounter complications yet the rear-guard action from Paul O’Connell, Donnacha O’Callaghan and Steven Ferris was ferocious and field position allowed them to keep the scoreboard ticking over through Johnny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara, where they held on to beat Australia for the first time in the tournament’s history.
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