Best of RWC - Episode 1
Given that there is now 47 days 7 hours 40 mins & 49 seconds until kick-off (a little less now) it is past time I regurgitated this series of articles on the great games in RWC history. Hope you enjoy as I am inordinately proud of it.
Way waay back in 2007, about the time of the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean I found myself reflecting on a number of the remarkable upset results in that tournament. This brought to mind the possibility, and dread, of upsets occurring at the Rugby World Cup due later that year. My tiny little mind then started reflecting on upset results in previous RWC tournaments.
I started a quick post for TSF, which became an article, which became a series on, in my opinion, the very best matches at the RWCs of 1987, ‘91, ‘95, ‘99 & ‘03. Initially I started looking only at the “Upsets”, this extended into “almost upsets” and then “Classic” matches.
So what was originally intended to be a short forum post of a random thought (“Gee, some upsets in the CWC, wonder if there will be any in the Rugby”) grew initially into a series of 10, then 13 articles (’95 Final deserved an article of it’s own) and more as the RWC cycle repeats every four years.
It seems to me that rugby has a remarkable record of predictability: often the result will go with the favourite, especially at international level. This is (usually) good news for us All Blacks fans.
When I updated this article ahead of 2015 I counted 288 RWC matches played to that time of which only 22 went notably against what would have been considered expectation (at least what I would have expected anyway). This compares to 14 of 186 pre-07, and 19 of 234 including RWC VI.
When I look at the results of 2015 I can really only add two more unexpected results, so the current total is 24 of 336.
I do warn that each of these articles are written almost entirely from memory with only the occasional fact checked.
So if you haven’t been bored to death already, read on, starting with…
Fiji 28 v Argentina 9
Argentina had gained a secure foothold in the New Zealand rugby public’s psyche following the “All Blacks” (in quotation marks as they were sans the 30 odd players who were in South Africa) tour there in 1976, but more so following their strong showing on tour and “tests” against New Zealand XVs in NZ in 1979.
When Hugo Porta’s boot earned a hard fought 21-all draw in the second test in Buenos Aires in 1985 many in New Zealand and around the world were confident that a new power in world rugby had emerged. That the margin in the first test only blew out to safe proportions in the last quarter of the game (after being down to one point at one stage in the second half), and the Argentines had produced two spectacular tries to their slick mid-fielders was just more indication that the Pumas (now Los Pumas) were ready to pounce.
As well as Porta names like Iachetti , Cuesta-Silva & Turnes became as well known in rugby households as Farr-Jones, Poidevin, Hastings, Lagisquet & Lescaboura.
So when the teams invited to the RWC I were announced Argentina slotted neatly into New Zealand’s pool as the 8th seeded team and were confidently expected to progress to the quarterfinals.
What happened in Hamilton in the afternoon of Sunday 24 May 1987 was the crowning of the spectacular opening weekend of the inaugural Rugby World Cup (more on that later).
Fiji tore into the Argentines who were shell shocked by a team that, according to one newspaper report, “threw passes that had no right to be caught” and played running rugby as only teams from the Pacific Islands can.
All of a sudden Fijians were the talk of the World Cup and names like big full back Severo Koroduadua, lock Ilaitia Savai, Manasa Qoro, Rokowailoa & Rakoroi became underdog heroes as Fiji booked their quarter final date at against France at Eden Park (that game is a story in itself to be explored in Episode 2).
This match effectively found the second qualifier for Pool C despite all three of the other teams (“other” than New Zealand) all having one win each (refer “minor upset” Italy v Fiji below) with Fiji squeezing through to the second round on tries scored.
There was controversy in Fiji’s second match when they rested most of their top squad against NZ prior to the Italy game: perhaps the first case of rotation in the name of the World Cup devaluing test matches.
France 30 v Australia 24 – Semi-Final No.1
Watching this in the TV room of the student hostel I was living in at the time I could not fully enjoy the late late winning try by the brilliant Serge Blanco like the rest of my inmates could. There was no bigger cheer amongst the hostel audience during the World Cup, including during the final (except perhaps for Paul Thorburn’s goal in the middle of the following week, see below, but there was only about 5 or 6 of us watching that game) but I kept waiting for the referee to bring it back for the scrum following Laurent Rodriguez’s blatant knock-on immediately prior.
Regardless of the justice of the final try any non-Australian had to be delighted with the result: not only did the underdog win, in dramatic circumstances, the look on Aussie Coach Alan Jones’ face was priceless. I’m not sure exactly what it was about Alan Jones that made him so detested by New Zealanders, perhaps a general dislike of arrogance, or distrust of someone a bit “different”.
The game was a try for try slug fest, a brilliant game of rugby wasted on an unappreciative Sydney at an unimpressive Concord Oval, in front of only 17,768 people. To judge rugby’s growth in Australia one need only consider the mad scramble for Bledisloe tickets and the full house signs on the mighty Stadium Australia in the final week of the same tournament 16 years later. And even though rugby’s popularity has taken a hit by the late 20-teens it hasn’t slid to that level.
Some Northern Hemispheric scribes somewhat condescendingly suggested that this was the “real” final. Pettiness towards the All Blacks domination of the tournament aside this match deserves its place in highest echelons of the greatest games ever played
Wales 22 v Australia 21 – 3 v 4 Play-off
The abiding memory of this match was the crowd on Rotorua’s International Stadium going berko when Paul Thorburn landed the last minute conversion (We love you like a brother Australia, we really do: but … you know).
Thorburn was known to muff the odd easy kick, so it was lucky for him winger Adrian Hadley scored this way out on the left hand touch. For good measure he took the ball back something like 35m from the goal line just to add some difficulty to ensure success.
David Cody’s early dismissal (pretty sure sendings off in those days weren’t accompanied by the soccer affectation of a silly coloured card) and Jonathan Deveraux’s need to spectacularly fend off every defending Australian in sight are the other two snippets of this game that live in the memory of the match that no-one wanted to play.
The Wallabies were joint tournament favourites, and despite this Wallaby campaign being a shambles with the coach insisting on continuing his radio work during the tournament and the captain booked for drunk driving they were expected to deal with the Welsh, who stuttered through the tournament and were hammered only days prior 49-6 by NZ.
One cannot make mention of this result without quoting the poet who turned up at the final with a banner (later adopted by the All Black’s beer sponsor who ran a series of full page newspaper advertisements throughout the tournament featuring quirky “headlines”) that read: “The All Blacks came forth and conquered. The Aussies just came fourth”.
USA 21 v Japan 18
I’ve included this match only as there seemed to be genuine surprise at the result at the time. Quite frankly I thought the Yanks would win and was not surprised.
A missed penalty from directly in front in the final second allowed the US to sneak what remained their only win in RWC tournaments until 2011 and cost Japan what would have been their only win in all of the first eight tournaments over 28 years.
Italy 18 v Fiji 15
Notable for Marcello Cuttitta’s second brilliant wingers’ try of the tournament.