Owain Jones looks at eight of the biggest shocks in Rugby World Cup history

Rugby World Cup Greatest Shocks

With nine 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. Owain Jones takes a look at eight of the greatest, starting with the biggest of all, Japan‘s colossal victory over the Springboks in 2015.

Japan 34-32 South Africa (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 and just could not shake off 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 looked like they would fall agonisingly short of achieving their first World Cup victory since 1991. But their gallant efforts were rewarded when, spurning the chance to kick three points and so draw the match, they worked the ball left from a last-gasp scrum to Kiwi-born Karne Hesketh, who slid into the corner. Cue pandemonium in the stands and some heavy soul-searching from anyone affiliated to South African rugby.

Wales 13-16 Western Samoa (1991)

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 Wales emerging victorious. But 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. At the end they received much applause from the Welsh crowd for their efforts.

It was a result that changed the rugby landscape forever and some of those Samoan players, Brian Lima, Pat Lam, Frank Bunce and Apollo Perelini, went on to enjoy stellar careers. One wag summed it up, by quipping, “Thank heavens we weren’t playing the whole of Samoa.”

France 43-31 New Zealand (1999)

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. Christophe Lamaison masterminded the comeback and went through the scorecard with 28 points, and flyers Philippe Bernat-Salles and Christophe Dominici joined the party to run in glorious scores. New Zealand were left in a state of mourning.

Who would have thought: France came back from the dead against New Zealand in 1999 (Getty Images)

Wales 22-21 Australia (1987)

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 in the semi-final.

The sending-off of Wallaby David Codey changed the picture, giving 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.

New Zealand 18-20 France (2007)

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 properly capitalise on the scoreboard.

Early in the second half, Luke McAlister was sin-binned and a try by Thierry Dusautoir set up a grandstand finish. Yannick Jauzion applied the finishing touch with minutes to go and Graham Henry’s men, without a clear kicker, failed to go for the drop-goal that could have rescued the disappointment of a nation.

Japan 19-12 Ireland (2019)

Japan stunned the then world number two side Ireland in 2019 with a second half comeback. Ireland held a slender lead at half-time with the score at the break 12-9. But Kenki Fukuoka dashed over the line to put the hosts ahead and a Yu Tamura penalty secured the win. The victory was Japan’s first over Ireland in Test rugby and it was the first time Ireland had lost to a non-Tier one nation at a World Cup.

South Africa 15-12 New Zealand (1995)

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, an All Blacks 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 15-6 Australia (2011)

Ireland were far from the finished product seen in 2018. They had 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 few people expected them to encounter undue complications.

Yet the rear-guard action from Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan and Stephen Ferris was ferocious and field position allowed them to keep the scoreboard ticking over through Johnny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara. They held on to beat Australia for the first time in the tournament’s history.

Fiji 27-30 Uruguay (2019)

A few days after thoroughly testing the Wallabies, the Fijians looked to get back to winning ways against lowly Uruguay, a team they had beaten 68-7 earlier in the year. However the Uruguayans produced the performance of their lives, scoring three tries in the first half to go 24-12 up by the break.

The Fijians clawed their way back into the match but Uruguay dug deep, exerting such energy and throwing themselves into tackles with such gusto that some of their players began suffering from cramp. Two penalties by Felipe Berchesi ultimately gave los Teros an outstanding victory and one that surely represents their greatest day in the sport.

Uruguay celebrate beating Fiji at RWC 2019

Elation: Uruguay celebrate their stunning win over Fiji at Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium (Getty)

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