The Rugby World Cup has produced some stunning moments down the years, with Jonny Wilkinson’s late kick to win it for England in 2003 a memory that all rugby supporters remember fondly. However, great moments often come in part with great matches – so without further ado, here’s the five greatest games in the history of the tournament.
- New Zealand 53-37 Wales – Group Stages, 2003
With both having already booked their places in the quarterfinals, the tries were flying in in this encounter. The All Blacks went in as firm favourites, but a shock was on the cards as the Welsh came out roaring, leading 37-33 at the 40-minute mark in a breath-taking clash. Joe Rokocoko crossed the line twice, but two tries in six minutes from Sonny Parker and Colin Charvis, Shane Williams then adding his try as Wales were on track for one of the biggest shocks in rugby history.
A try from Doug Howlett settled All-Black nerves, and Welsh resistance eventually broke, as Spencer, Howlett and Aaron Mauger got over the line. Eight tries for New Zealand, but a mighty scare – in a game that will live long in the memory of rugby supporters.
- France 30-24 Australia – Semi Final, 1987
The script was written for an Australia and New Zealand final, but Les Blues hadn’t read it. Some superb kicking from Michael Lynagh and Didier Camberabero saw the sides trade scores, but Lynagh then missed some good opportunities to put the Wallabies out in front that proved fatal.
David Campese and David Codey tries had kept them out in front, but France refused to bow to the occasion, Alain Lorieuz, Philippe Sella and Patrice Lagisquet. Australia led 24-21 before the boot of Camberabero levelled proceedings, the game destined for extra time.
Then came one of rugby’s greatest team tries for the monumental upset, the ball passing through eleven players, before Serge Blanco shrugged off Tom Lawton to silence the crowd in Sydney. It was France who progressed, but New Zealand who were eventual champions. However, what a story it was.
- New Zealand 45-29 England – Semi Final, 1995
England took a major scalp in knocking out Australia in the quarter-final but were no match for a Jonah Lomu inspired All-Blacks. The late New Zealand star was just 20 at the time, but one of rugby’s hottest prospects, living up to his billing with an incredible four tries as the English were left in his dust.
They rallied in the second half, tries from Rory Underwood and Will Carling adding respectability to the scoreline, but this was New Zealand and Lomu’s day. Number 8 Zinzan Brooke slotted over a drop goal as a rare collector’s item, the All Blacks going on to lose to South Africa in the decider.
This game will always be remembered, as the game which truly put Jonah Lomu on the map, as rugby’s newest star. The first try below is well worth a watch.
- France 20-18 New Zealand, 2007 Quarter Final
Again, like 1987, France refused to bow to their underdog tag. The only difference being this time that the All-Blacks were seemingly cruising. They led 13-3 at half-time having dominated the opening exchanges, but the French came out like wild animals in the second half, led by a warrior-like performance from captain Thierry Dusatoir. The French captain took advantage of Luke McAlister being sent to the sin bin, crossing the line to level the scores.
Rodney So’oialo had looked to restore natural order with his try, but kicks from Lionel Beauxis had kept France right in touch, before Yannick Jauzion’s late score turned the game on his head, the introduction of Frederic Michalak also pivotal in swinging the game in France’s favour.
It was the first time ever that New Zealand didn’t make the last four, and again, it was arch-rivals France who had stunned them.
France 43-31 New Zealand – 1999 Semi Final
Fittingly, its yet another France and All Blacks clash that is the greatest of the lot. Some monumental clashes down the years come close, but nothing trumps this – the game that had absolutely everything.
Again, no one had given France a hope. 24-10 behind, people began to see why New Zealand were overwhelming favourites. Christophe Lamaison was the star of the show, having come in for the injured Thomas Castaignede. He crossed the line early on and kicked well throughout, but a Lomu-inspired New Zealand broke away.
They were perhaps on autopilot, and advantage was well and truly taken. The boot of Lamaison added 12 to drag France back from the dead, then the tries came pouring in to leave world rugby shell-shocked.
Christian Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Philippe Bernat-Salles all touched down, and that was that. France had scored 33 points in the blink of an eye. Jeff Wilson’s late response meant nothing, again New Zealand were left cursing the French – in arguably rugby’s greatest ever tie, let alone the Rugby World Cup.