Last week marked exactly one year before the start of the 2019 World Cup in Japan. So I decided to write something slightly different and give you my top 5 Rugby World Cup matches of all time. Let me know what you think and whether you agree. Are there any games that I have missed?
5. Ireland v Australia, Quarter Final 1991
5. Ireland v Australia, Quarter Final 1991
This is an absolute classic.
Played at Lansdowne Road in front of what looks (and sounds) like 100,000 people (no idea what the actual attendance was). Looking back on it I cannot remember seeing such a crazy crowd in the modern era.
The game kicked off with a scrap in the first 2 minutes as the massive underdogs Ireland looked to rattle the Australian's. Australia dominated most of the game but could never quite pull away and with five minutes to go back rower Gordon Hamilton scored his now famous try (check this Youtube link). The crazy crowd that I mentioned earlier were now on the pitch celebrating with the players. Unfortunately for the home team the game still had a few minutes to run and in classic Aussie style Lynagh and Campese ruined the party to win the game 18-15.
There is something romantic about rugby pre-professionalism and this game had everything that was great about the amateur era. Australia went on to win the tournament.
4. New Zealand v France, Final 2011 (Link to the highlights here)
This is truly one for the Purist. Luckily I am a purist! It was 24 years since the All Blacks had won a World Cup and they were back on home soil and back at Eden Park for this one. New Zealand went into the final as overwhelming favourites but France had been the surprise package of the tournament and as always you never know what to expect from Les Bleus.
The game itself was ugly from the first minute with both teams missing with the boot, nevertheless New Zealand went into the break 5-0 up thanks to a set move from a 5m Lineout being finished by a tight head prop.
Aaron Cruden was starting at 10 with Dan Carter injured and it seemed the fly half jersey was an unlucky one for New Zealand as he was then replaced by 4th choice Donald. Luckily Donald had his kciking boots on on and so he converted a penalty to take it to 8-0. France responded with pressure on the Kiwi line and eventually managed to get over next to the posts. A successful conversion made it 8-7 with 30 minutes to play.
New Zealand defended heroically from this point on and the game finished 8-7. Maybe not the spectacle everyone wanted as a World Cup final but I love the grit and determination to win at home. It was the beginning of the All Blacks domination and made it a household name.
3. Japan v South Africa, Group Stages 2015
Often cited as the biggest upset in Rugby History. Japan ran out winners in the group stage against overwhelming favourites South Africa.
This game will always be remembered for an incredible final 10 minutes (watch it here). South Africa were leading 32-29 going into the last few minutes of the game when Japan went over in the corner with the last play of the game to secure a historic win over a Tier 1 nation.
The tears from the players and crowd at the final whistle showed how much this victory meant and suddenly everyone became a Japanese rugby fan. Watch the footage and see how the crowd reacts to the try and remember the game was played in Brighton not Tokyo!
2. South Africa v New Zealand, Final 1995
This game represents so much more than rugby. South Africa had recently become a democracy and were hosting their first global sporting event for many years. Nelson Mandela was in attendance wearing his Springbok shirt with 6 on the back (captain Francois Pienaar's number).
Despite the home advantage New Zealand were seen as the champions in waiting. No tries were scored during the game and only 2 people scored points, Joel Stransky and Andrew Mehrtens. South Africa went into half time with a surprising 9-6 lead. In the second half of the game only 3 points were scored with a drop goal from Mehrtens to draw the game level. A 9-9 final score meant extra time in a World Cup final for the first time in history.
7 minutes before the end of extra time Stransky hit another drop goal to take the lead 15-12 and win the World Cup for South Africa.
Like the Ireland v Australia game, I was too young at the time to appreciate it but I love watching it back. The game included so many legends of rugby including Francois Pienaar, Joost van der Westhuizen, Zinzan Brooke, Sean Fitzpatrick and of course Jonah Lomu. It was a game that changed Rugby and politics and led to numerous documentaries, books and even a Hollywood movie (check it out on Youtube).
1. England v Australia, Final 2003
It is an obvious choice but it had to be.
Over the past 15 years I have watched this game dozens of times. All 100 minutes of it, the match is available in full on Youtube. At the time England were the best team in the World. They had beaten every tier 1 team in the lead up to the tournament. Having said that it was a home World Cup for Australia and they were coming into form as the tournament progressed especially after beating New Zealand in the semi final.
Jonny Wilkinson was arguably the best player in the world at the time but had been struggling with injuries throughout the tournament (as he did for his entire career). Despite not being fully fit he kicked 15 points including the dramatic match winning drop goal in the last minute of extra time.
Australia actually scored first when Lote Tuqiri went over in the corner. England responded with their very own Rugby League convert Jason Robinson also scoring from a Wilkinson break. Wilkinson and Elton Flatley then went into a kicking duel which saw both of them convert 3 penalties to make the score level at 14 all.
Extra time saw a penalty for each team and then the biggest moment in English rugby history when Wilkinson hit a drop goal with only one minute left to play.
It was a defining moment for English rugby and also for the sport of Rugby in England. It was and still is the greatest game of rugby I have ever seen (maybe I am biased!).
What do you think of my selection? What are your top 5? Let us know in the comments.