Best of RWC - Episode 4


1991 – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales & France – The Classics

Part 4 of the best of Rugby World Cup – my opinion.

And yes, despite being the least appealing of the seven editions of Rugby World Cup to date, ridiculously hosted in five (count them, five) different countries, and full of some of the most boring and uninspiring rugby to be played at a World Tournament, there were some matches that will live long in the memory.

Don’t be surprised if any of the “facts” need updating as this is mostly by memory.

England 19 v France 10 – QF2


Pretty much all I can remember of the game.


I recall some Froggie somebody booting some Pommie somebody in the head – blatant straight out boot to the head that nowadays would be caught on video and have you up before the beak with the prospect of some serious fishing leave. This was of course prior to the use of video for citing purposes (not sure if touchies were even allowed to get involved in those days?).

That and the Frog coach Daniel Dubroca having a “quiet disagreement” with the ref (NZ’s Dave Bishop) in the tunnel after the game, an incident that ended Dubroca’s tenure.

I’ve long had an issue with the seedings and resultant pool selections and quarter final draws in the early RWCs, especially as they were a function of the lopsided nature of the original draw, with subsequent seedings based on results from four years previous. For example: Wales were seeded three for 1991 after their dramatic win in the 3v4 play-off from ’87 yet failed to qualify out of their pool, and the best two teams were seeded to play in the Dublin semi. Thus it seemed that England got the easier of the semi finals as a result of their loss to the ABs in pool play. Thus I suppose we easily forget that England had to beat France in a QF in Paris. (Beat France! In a quarterfinal! In Paris!) Perhaps the Pomgolians don’t get enough credit for this result.

Australia 19 v Ireland 18 – QF3

When Irish flanker Gordon Hamilton scooted away at the 79th minute mark the roar from Lansdowne Road could probably have been heard in Sydney. He had just given the hosts a remarkable 3 point lead with time effectively up.

Unbelievably the Aussies were not done with. According to the BBC archives (I had to look something up) Ireland conceded a penalty and Michael Lynagh looked set to step up and take the penalty to level the scores. But instead the Wallaby number 10 opted to take a quick tap penalty.

I personally don’t recall the tap kick but … Lynagh combined with the other superstars in the Wallaby backline Tim Horan, Jason Little and David Campese, with the latter dragged down just short. The balled spilled up to Lynagh who bounced over the line to rob the Irish of a famous victory. Strangely watching this it just seemed inevitable to me that Australia would score the winner. The Wallaby players on the field said pretty much the same thing to their rather shell shocked colleagues on the sideline: “Always under control” or words to that effect.

In a previous incarnation of this article I wrote the following paragraph leading into 2007: (I’ve never been known for my predictive ability … 2007 didn’t work out well for Ireland)
This match does add to the legend of Ireland being the sport’s gallant loser – which they have held until recently and are now looking like they have the potential to mount a serious challenge later this year.

I again had Ireland’s form before RWC2015 making then a looming as a dark horse. Nothing dark about the horse ahead of Japan. We’re all aware of their ability this time around.

Australia 16 v New Zealand 6 – SF2

This was Australia’s best performance of the tournament.

Despite muddling through the tournament (scraping past Western Samoa by 9-3 and doing their best to lose to Ireland for example) the Wallabies did just enough to win the tournament, no sense in doing any more really. However the Wallabies were irresistible in this match and the eventual margin flattered the defending champions who were unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament with their first ever loss in World Cup rugby.

Two moments by David Campese lit up this match which was otherwise unremarkable: his change of angle to ghost around the outside of the All Black forward pack for his own try, and the bamboozling of the All Black defense and the no-look (did someone say “fluke”?) pass to Tim Horan for his.

Often flakey against New Zealand despite the superstar reputation he enjoyed in the Northern hemisphere these were Campo’s best career moments against the ABs after his debut tour in 1982.

Australia defended well in the second half as New Zealand threw what little ammunition they had left at the yellow and green wall.

It was no secret that the Australians had courted and won over the locals whilst the All Blacks managed to alienate them. That appears to have been a lesson that not all subsequent campaigns have taken on board. On that note it is interesting to observe the charm offensive the All Blacks have waged prior to recent RWCs up north. Regardless the northerners still seem to hate on us.

New Zealand’s aging roster was exposed for not introducing new blood early enough as great players attempted to hold their bodies together for one last crack at the title. A symptom of the 4 yearly World Cup cycle that was not immediately apparent prior to this, the second Cup. At least this mistake has not been repeated to the same extent.

Viewed in the cold light of day (28 years later) it’s obviously not an upset as the teams surely started the tournament as joint favourites given the results of the ’91 Bledisloe (a 21-12 loss in Sydney and a scratchy 6-3 win on a sodden Eden Park). Not a ‘Classic’ match in terms of sparkling rugby or even a thrilling finish, but the All Blacks first World Cup loss was a seminal moment in the history of the tournament.

Australia 12 v England 6 – Final

On reflection this must have been just about the lowest total points conceded by any one team at any one RWC tournament (I can’t be bothered checking), but Australia’s total points conceded of 54 in 6 games (average 9) speaks volumes about why and how they won in ’91.

With the “efficiency” expected of the 1991 Wallabies they held out England by the value of the single McKenzie/Daly try (who was actually awarded it?) in the final.

The game was also famous for England abandoning their “normal” forward dominated ten-man rugby tactics of the late 20th Century, and attempting to spread the ball wide. Given that the English had backs of real ability like Carling, Guscott and Underwood it was a shame for them and for world rugby that they relied so heavily for so long on the boot of Rob Andrew for territory and points. (I blame the Scots for beating them in that Grand Slam match in, I think, 1989: the one when Stanger scored for the Jocks. That year England played fantastic rugby, and I was quite a fan. This loss seemed to shock them into their shell, from which they have only come out of on occasion. Have disliked the Poms intensely since.)

Many thought that a running game was beyond the English and their inability to implement their adjusted game plan cost them the game. It’s more likely that the clinical nature of the 1991 Australians was just too much for them, and would have been regardless of the tactics. England had recognised that they could not win playing the expected tactics so tried some left of centre thinking.

As coach Bob Dwyer yelled crass words audible to the Queen (kick it to where Bob?) the Australians defended their line in the dying stages and “brought back Bill” for the first time, bringing to an end the most boring of the RWCs to date.

Bring on Boerland ’95.

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