We take a whistle stop tour through the greatest matches to take place during the Rugby World Cup.
Greatest Rugby World Cup Matches
We have already seen some fantastic matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and are sure to see more as the tournament develops.
But what are the greatest matches in the history of the tournament? Well in this piece we have taken a look at 12 of the greatest matches with their being at least one selection from each tournament.
What do you make of our selections? Let us know your thoughts via our social media channels.
Greatest Rugby World Cup Matches
Australia 24 vs France 30, Semi-Final, 1987
As per usual with the French, they upset what was supposed to happen here. Australia were supposed to win to set up a World Cup Final against New Zealand. It looked to be going that way too as time was winding down and the men in gold were ahead 24-21. Didier Camberabero slotted a penalty to level the scores and extra-time looked inevitable.
But the French again had other ideas. Starting in their own half, they played their usual game of flair and a pinch of luck to get the ball to Serge Blanco who showed a turn of speed to just about dot down in the corner. They had won it against all odds and would go on to lose against New Zealand in the final.
Wales 13 vs Western Samoa 16, Group Stage, 1991
The first true shock to occur in the Rugby World Cup, this match saw for the first time ever, a seeded team beaten by a non-seeded team.
England 29 vs New Zealand 45, Semi-Final, 1995
The match that saw the man mountain of Jonah Lomu run rings around England, New Zealand won easily to progress to their second World Cup Final eight years after their first.
South Africa 15 vs New Zealand 12, World Cup Final, 1995
A match that united a nation, South Africa somehow managed to bottle up Lomu and somehow emerged victorious thanks to the boot of Joel Stransky. This was the Springboks first tournament since being readmitted to the rugby fold because of their apartheid policies and it cannot be understated in its importance not just for South Africa, but also the history of rugby union.
Italy 25 vs Tonga 28, Group Stages, 1999
Sure this match didn’t include two powerhouses of rugby but for sheer drama it delivered on all fronts. The score was tied 25-all and a draw looked on the cards, at least that was until full-back Sateki Tuipulotu decided to pull off a last minute drop-goal to gain an unlikely victory.
France 43 vs New Zealand 31, Semi-Final, 1999
This really does require little explanation. The All Blacks had dominated the game and had put themselves up by 24 points to 10 at one stage. It appeared as if they were heading for yet another World Cup final, but the French had other ideas.
Inspired by Christophe Lamaison, the French scored 33 unanswered points in 20 minutes and would emerge 43-31 winners. Much like 1987, they would get into the final but lose once again, this time to Australia.
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New Zealand 53 vs Wales 37, Group Stages, 2003
Both had already qualified so this match was the decider for who got top spot in group D during the tournament. Not many people gave Wales much of a chance but thanks to the games free-flowing nature, and the genius of youngster Shane Williams, the Welsh scored try after try to eventually lead 37-34.
The All Blacks, visibly shaken, somehow managed to regain their composure and emerge 53-37 winners.
Australia 17 vs England 20, Final, 2003 (after extra-time)
The second final on our list, the quality of play may not have been the best but a World Cup final as important as this one deserves mentioning. It was totally engrossing from start to finish and the pivotal moment conducted by Jonny Wilkinson meant that the northern hemisphere had finally wrestled the cup away from the south for the first time.
England were the favourites before the tournament began and they delivered which was a monumental achievement in English sport.
France 10 vs Argentina 34, Third-place playoff, 2007
This match is purely on this list because of what the third-place playoff usually is – a damp squib. However this unexpectedly delivered largely because it was a rematch of the first game of the tournament, when Argentina beat France to shock the hosts.
The Pumas turned out to be a revelation throughout the tournament playing exciting and energetic rugby, and France showed a willingness to play flowing rugby as well which resulted in a gripping affair. To add to that, there were three sin-binnings. Argentina ultimately proved too strong though as they ran in five tries to win 34-10.
France 14 vs Tonga 19, Group Stages, 2011
Another French loss and another shock win for Tonga in our list, the men in red made a 13-6 half-time lead count during the group stages of the 2011 tournament. Thanks to the boot of Kurt Morath they eventually ran out winners by 19 points to 14 and the ecstatic reaction of the Tongans showed just how much the victory meant to them.
South Africa 32 vs Japan 34, Group Stages, 2015
Arguably the biggest shock in rugby history, Japan scored a last minute try through Karne Hesketh to win against the Springboks. The Brave Blossoms had not won a match in the event since 1991 and yet played bright and attacking rugby that took the Springboks totally off-guard.
No doubt they were below their best, but Japan deserved the win in every sense of the word.
Australia 35 vs Scotland 34, Quarter-Final, 2015
Probably best remembered for referee Craig Joubert’s controversial decision that gave Australia a vital penalty, this match was a pulsating affair that saw eight tries scored.
Japan 28 vs Scotland 21, Group Stages, 2019
The match that would decide who went through to the knockout stages nearly didn’t happen. Super Typhoon Hagibis wreaked havoc on Yokohama and there was a realistic chance the match would be cancelled. Thank goodness it wasn’t because it was a pulsating affair that ultimately saw Japan top their group and move into the knockout stages in their home World Cup. To be honest, we could write down what happened below, but the highlights above tell the whole story…
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