The tournament has seen some truly memorable moments in rugby history, and in this piece we take a look at some of our favourites.

Greatest Rugby World Cup Moments

The Rugby World Cup has provided some of the greatest moments in the history of rugby union. The presence of the greatest players competing for the ultimate prize in the sport means this is an inevitable result.

So bearing this in mind, we have scoured through the history of the tournament looking for our favourite moments that warrant the title of greatest ever.

Are there any we have missed? Do you agree or disagree with our selections? Don’t hesitate to let us know through our social media channels.

Greatest Rugby World Cup Moments

Japan Beating South Africa in 2015

Unlikely Winners: Japan shock the world in 2015 by beating South Africa (Getty Images)

We all love a good underdog story and this was one of the biggest shocks in all of sport let alone in rugby union. Japan went toe to toe with the Springboks for the entire match and got themselves an unlikely victory thanks to Karne Hesketh’s last minute try in the corner. This kicked off sheer pandemonium in the stands and every fan watching that wasn’t a South African was pumping the air with delight at the result.

The Rise of Jonah Lomu in 1995

No other player emerged onto the world stage like All Black Jonah Lomu did back in 1995. The giant of a man scored three tries in their opening few matches which set up a semi-final clash with England.

It was during that match that Lomu etched himself into the memory of everyone watching and especially Mike Catt. Lomu scored four tries, including a bulldozing run that saw him literally run straight through full-back Catt. Have I mentioned he had only just turned 21 too?

Jannie De Beer Kicks England Out in 1999

Number Four: De Beer slots his fourth drop-goal over against England (Getty Images)

Executed correctly the drop-goal is one of the simplest ways of keeping the scoreboard ticking over in your favour, England would recognise this in 2003 with the boot of Jonny Wilkinson (see below). But before that it was South African Jannie De Beer who illuminated how effective the tactic could be.

During a quarter-final match between the Springboks and England, he kicked five drop-goals to quite literally boot the English out of the tournament by 44 points to 21.

Jonny Winning Drop-Goal in 2003

For only the second time in Rugby World Cup history, the final had gone to extra-time. England and Australia were tied largely through the kicking accuracy of Wilkinson and Elton Flatley. With time winding down Martin Johnson took the ball into contact one more time to set the stage for a drop-goal.

Matt Dawson, wily as ever, hesitated to almost draw the Australians offside and as they were briefly retreating he threw the pass to Wilkinson. Off his weaker foot, Jonny cooly knocked the drop-kick through the posts to go up 20 points to 17. The English closed out the match, and at last they were world champions.

Western Samoa Beating Wales in 1991

Playing at home, the Welsh were expected to win easily over the island nation of Western Samoa. But the men in blue had different ideas as they emerged as 16-13 winners thanks to the boot of scrum-half Vaea. Many will point to the controversial try Westerm Samoa were awarded in the second half as the reason for the shock victory, but that downgrades how underrated the Samoans were on the day.

Ultimately this was the first true shock in the competition as it was the first time a seeded nation had lost to a non-seeded nation.

England’s dominant 2019 semi-final against New Zealand
Greatest Rugby World Cup moments

England react to New Zealand’s haka in 2019 (Getty Images)

Heading into the match, three-time champions New Zealand were the favourites. But England had an air around them, displayed with their reaction to the haka. Captain Owen Farrell had a wry smile as the rest of the England team formed a semi-circle to the halfway line. Eddie Jones’ team backed their stunt up with a dominant performance, racing to a 10-0 lead at half-time. The All Blacks hit back with a try in the second half but it was not enough with England heading to the final with a 19-7 win.

Stephen Donald Kicking The Decisive Points in 2011 Final

Playing in their first final since 1995, the pressure was on the All Blacks to win in their home World Cup in 2011. To add to the nerves they were up against their enemies France, and had third-string fly-half Aaron Cruden in the number 10 jersey for the match.

Then, despite starting the final well with a try to Tony Woodcock, things got even worse as Cruden himself went down injured with a knee problem. Step up Beaver, otherwise known as fourth-choice fly-half Stephen Donald.

On the 46th minute Donald cooly slotted a penalty that put the gap to eight points which was then immediately slashed to one with a try to Thierry Dusautoir. No other points would be scored though and Donald became a national hero for kicking the points that finally won New Zealand another World Cup.

Samoa and South Africa Praying Together in 2003 

One of the more beautiful moments from the tournament, after their bruising pool match the players from Samoa and South Africa shared a prayer together for a brief moment of respect and reflection.

France Beating the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007. 

On two occasions the French stunned the All Blacks to knock them out of World Cups despite being overwhelming favourites.

In 1999 the All Blacks were ahead 24-10 with the World Cup final looming. However the French scored 33 unanswered points in an outstanding turnaround that the Kiwis had no answer for. The final score was 43-31.

Then eight years later, again facing a deficit of 13 points to 3, the French pulled off a stunning second-half comeback thanks to two tries from Dusautoir and Yannick Jauzion. The final score was 20-18.

Francois Pienaar and Springboks Unite A Nation in 1995

Rainbow Nation: South Africa’s rugby team in 1995 unites an entire country (Getty Images)

South Africa had not been part of the Rugby World Cup scene thanks to their apartheid regime. However after being readmitted to the fold, the 1995 tournament was held there to help reunite a country through the medium of rugby.

Indeed Nelson Mandela and Springbok captain Francois Pienaar knew the importance of a good showing which is exactly what happened. Facing New Zealand in the final, they bottled up man mountain Jonah Lomu and emerged victorious by 15 points to 12 after extra-time.

Mandela, in a Springboks jersey, presented Pienaar with the trophy in a moment which perfectly symbolised the unification of a nation.

Japan Topping Their Group In 2019

Put in a group alongside Ireland and Scotland, not a lot was expected of 2019 World Cup hosts Japan. But they proved everyone wrong as the players competed excellently and used the excitement and enthusiasm of the Japanese people to beat both of those Tier 1 teams to top their group. The victory over Scotland was particularly emotional given that the match nearly didn’t take place because of Super Typhoon Hagibis. People had lost their lives and the victory brought together a nation.

Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black captain, lifts trophy

Greatest Rugby World Cup moments

Siya Kolisi lifts the trophy (Getty Images)

Siya Kolisi made history in 2018 when he became South Africa’s first black captain. He also became the Springboks’ first black captain to lift the World Cup trophy in 2019 when they defeated England in the final. The image of him lifting the Webb Ellis trophy sparked discussions around race in the country. Kolisi post-final interview went viral for speaking about coming together as a nation. “We have so many problems in our country,” Kolisi said. “A team like this — we come from different backgrounds, different races — came together with one goal… We love you, South Africa and we can achieve anything if we work together as one.”

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