The Rugby World Cup is the largest and most prestigious rugby union competition. Held every four years, the tournament’s intense rivalries and thrilling matches are watched by millions of fans across the globe.
The 2023 Rugby World Cup is no exception. So far, this tournament has delivered stunning results and spectacular performances. This includes quarter-finals which saw South Africa defeat hosts France, Argentina eliminate Wales, New Zealand triumph over Ireland and England put an end to Fiji’s campaign.
But which Rugby World Cup games will forever be remembered as the best? From 1987 to 2019, let’s explore the greatest Rugby World Cup games.
1987: New Zealand vs France
The first ever Rugby World Cup final was contested by New Zealand and France. At half time, the All Blacks were leading 9-3 and they continued to dominate during the second half. Although France secured an additional six points, New Zealand scored a further 20. The All Blacks won the match 29-9 and they lifted the first Webb Ellis Cup.
1991: Samoa vs Wales
This 1991 pool game delivered one of the tournament’s biggest shocks: it was the first time a non-seeded side had defeated a seeded team at the Rugby World Cup. Although Wales were the favourites, the physicality of the Samoan squad led to their 16-13 victory. As a result, this fiercely contested match is considered to be one of Samoa’s greatest Rugby World Cup games.
1995: South Africa vs New Zealand
The 1995 Rugby World Cup was the first major sporting event to be held in South Africa after apartheid. Today, this tournament is remembered for uniting a nation. The shining moment occurred after South Africa beat New Zealand 15-12 in the final. The recently freed Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey and cap, presented the Webb Ellis Cup to South Africa’s captain, Francois Pienaar.
1999: France vs New Zealand
During the semi-final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup, France delivered an exceptional performance against New Zealand. Down 24-10 with only minutes remaining, France staged a miraculous comeback. Les Bleus delivered a series of audacious plays and outstanding tries that led to their 43-31 win.
2003: England vs Australia
The 2003 final was one of the greatest Rugby World Cup games of all time. This match saw a high-stakes showdown between England and Australia. With 28 seconds of extra time remaining, Jonny Wilkinson clinched England’s victory with his famous drop goal. Thanks to Wilkinson’s boot, this thrilling match has become a RWC classic.
2007: France vs New Zealand
This quarter-final match saw the tournament favourites, New Zealand, relegated by France. The relentless and determined French side held their own and played with unparalleled precision. The result: they won the match 20-18 and earned their place in the semi-finals.
2011: Tonga vs France
This 2011 match was one of the greatest results and biggest shocks in Rugby World Cup history. Contested by France and Tonga, the men in red were up by seven points at half time. During the second half, France fought back but they were no match for the Tonga squad. The game finished 19-14 and the Tongans were euphoric.
2015: Japan vs South Africa
The 2015 tournament saw another surprise result when Japan defeated South Africa. Thanks to a last-minute try from Karne Hesketh, this Tier 2 nation secured their historic 34-32 win against a rugby powerhouse. As a true underdog victory, this match became the subject of a film named ‘The Brighton Miracle’.
2019: Wales vs France
The last of the great Rugby World Cup games featured a shock win by Wales. The Welsh squad faced France during the quarter-finals where they were down 19-10 at half time. Wales countered during the second half and a 74th-minute try by Ross Moriarty tipped the scales in their favour. The match ended 20-19 and France exited the competition.