History of the Rugby World Cup

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The world of rugby is opening up to the once dormant markets of Asia and America. The fact that rugby has been included in the Summer Olympic Games from 2016 adds to the growth of this amazing sport.

Rugby simply comes in two common forms, the 15-man orthodox game and the 7-a-side abbreviated version. The Sevens games has been included in the Olympics as the abbreviated version can determine a winner in 3 days or less and the “excitement” generated from this version has galvanized the world behind it.

But before we get into the hype of the Sevens, I’ll introduce you all to the orthodox version of the 15-man game. To be technically correct, there are 23 players in a team that takes to the field with 15 players involved in the game while 7 players sit on sides as reserve and substitute players.

The 15-man game also has a World Cup held every four years and 2015 is the 8th edition of the competition and each World Cup has been better than the last. In 2015, England will be the hosts of the competition with a few games being played in other parts of the U.K.

Before we get into the details of the Rugby World Cup, let’s just have a quick history lesson. Rugby has been around since 1823 when a scholar named William Webb Ellis picked up a football and ran with it to score. These roots of rugby were played at Rugby School in England, hence the name of the sport. Like any origin tale, there have been arguments about who did what, but the name William Webb Ellis is carved into rugby folklore.

Since that time, rules and regulations have been drawn up, adapted and abolished so that we now have the modern day game. The rule book can be found for free on the World Rugby website, so I won’t go through it here.

With the continued spread and development of the sport, the first registered international was in 1871 when England and Scotland played against each other. Later, Wales and Ireland had representative teams and in 1883, the competition now known as the Six Nations was born. Naturally the spread of the sport was grown through the British Empire so many of the old monarch countries adopted the sport, that is why you can find many old empire territories with a rich history of the game.

Okay, enough with the history lesson, let’s look at the Rugby World Cup. The winner of the World Cup is awarded a silver gilded in gold cup that is a little over a foot in height. Of course, as with all major cups awarded in rugby, players are able to drink from it. Only 4 nations have won this cup even though it has been around for eight competitions.

The first installment was played in 1987, co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. At the time only sixteen nations took part on an invitational basis. The first World Cup title holder was New Zealand as they defeated France 29-9 in the final. This was the birth of one of the greatest sporing events and rivalries in history.

In 1991, the host nations were the countries that formed the then Five Nations tournament, England, France, Wales, Ireland and Scotland and teams that wanted to take part had to play through a qualification process. The eventual winners were Australia after they defeated England 12-6.

The competition continued to grow and the 1995 Rugby World Cup is a famous competition and has a place in the stories of folklore as South Africa went on to win a titanic battle with New Zealand, eventually winning an overtime game 15-12. The competition was hosted by South Africa and the whole event created heroes out of players and politicians. This is where Jonah Lomu, the great colossal All Blacks’ winger made a name for himself and this is when South Africa needed more than politics to find their way through a new democracy. Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon even brought the story to Hollywood in the form of “Invictus”.

The 1999 Rugby World Cup was a time of exponential growth as rugby had now become a professional sport and the money was flowing into clubs and players didn’t have to receive a paycheck in a brown envelope. The host country was Wales and the amount of teams allowed to participate was raised from 16 to 20. The final was won by Australia as they defeated France 35-12 in front of a full capacity Millennium Stadium. Australia was the first nation to win the World Cup twice but haven’t won it again since.

The competition continued to grow and the 2003 edition was held in Australia. This was the best chance for Australia to defend their title but it was also a time of an England resurgence and the English team won a closely fought battle with Johnny Wilkinson making history with a drop kick and securing England’s first World Cup trophy 20-17 in overtime.

2007 saw France host the tournament with a number of teams in form to stake a claim but South Africa were eventual winners, getting over England 15-6 and in doing so were the second nation to win the championship twice.

2011 was the turn of New Zealand to host the tournament and after years of New Zealand not being able to make the most of their chances to win previous tournaments, even after being named favourites for almost every one, this was their moment. New Zealand faced France in the final and ran out eventual winners in a tight and low scoring affair, 8-7. New Zealand had eventually shaken of the stigma of World Cup chokers and joined Australia and South Africa as double winners.

The World Cup that starts in September 2015 with the opening match between England and Fiji to start things off.