Best of RWC - Episode 3
1991 – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales & France – Upsets
Part 3 of a personal reflection on the best of Rugby World Cup so far.
With the All Blacks confirmed in their rightful place as the best in the world by the 1987 tournament and their subsequent dominance through the late ‘80s surely all they had to do was turn up …
There were one or two upset results at RWC91. Again I add the rider that this was written almost entirely from memory with only the occasional fact checked so if some of the facts are not 100% … err … sorry.
The 1991 tournament was characterised by relatively low scoring, dour rugby. Relatively speaking the minnows performed well in this tournament and there seemed to be some hope that the number of competitive international teams was expanding. Despite this, the minnows did not get the wins: the big boys had a habit of doing just enough to stay in front (particularly Australia, the 9-3 result over Samoa as a particular example).
Thankfully (unless you’re Welsh) there was one stunning upset.
There was a match at Dublin that some like to consider an upset. A proper examination of history would confirm that the teams started at the very least on an even footing, therefore said match will be considered in Episode 4 “1991 Classics”.
Western Samoa 16 v Wales 13
This result was picked by many New Zealanders as a game that could go to the underdog. NZers of course were aware of the team strength and talent of players like Peter Fatialofa & Apollo Perelini. But this result pretty much sneaked up on the unsuspecting Welsh.
Western Samoa (who have subsequently apparently migrated eastward and are no longer “Western”), who somewhat controversially missed invitation to the inaugural 1987 event, got creative with eligibility criteria (back when these things were more “fluid” and subject to a lower degree of scrutiny) to add players like Frank Bunce (Niuean) and Mata’afa Keenan (Cook Islander) to their team but won the hearts of the rugby world by beating one of the (effectively) foundation IRB countries and a traditional rugby power.
Despite being loaded with poached New Zealanders and NZ based players several domestically based players starred and were to become stars for their country for many years: like try-scoring flanker Sila Vaifale and the winger, who was later given the nickname “The Chiropractor”, Brian Lima (who was still straightening backs in the 2003 tournament, just ask Dereck Hougaard).
To’o Vaega scored the first of the Samoan’s tries, and although this “try” may not have stood up to the scrutiny of today’s TMO nobody could deny that the Polynesian team deserved their win. (I recall one of the tries was dodgy … I think it was Vaega’s … however I reserve the right to be wrong about who scored said “try” as I can’t find any confirmation.)
Holding eventual champs Australia to 9-3 along the way Samoa were able to piggyback this win into the quarter-finals in this tournament, and effectively into the 1995 quarter-finals and the knock-out rounds of 1999 on the back of the seeding they gained here. Before they had to cope with the challenges of professional clubs restricting player availability the 1990s was a golden time for Samoan rugby.
Canada 13 v Fiji 3
Romania 17 v Fiji 15
Fiji was disappointing in 1991 after being seeded due to their achievement of making the knock-out round in 1987.
Canada had looked strong in ’87 so perhaps that result was not entirely unpredictable, but at the start of the tournament many would have suggested that Fiji would graduate to the knock-outs again. Certainly the Fijian’s loss to Romania was an upset.
As an aside and slightly sad note (at least for me as they’re my favourite minnow), Canada have yet to realise their promise of 1987 and 1991, reaching the quarter finals in the latter tournament, and the IRB (now WR) must take responsibility for letting a golden opportunity to help create a new rugby power and establish a foothold in North America fall through their fingers.