1987: History makers
The inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia and featured 16 teams across four pools. The All Blacks set the tournament alight in the opening game with a 70-6 win over Italy at Eden Park. Michael Jones scored the first try by an individual (the first try was a penalty try) in Rugby World Cup history with a brilliant diving effort which is now immortalised in a statue outside Eden Park. The game is also remembered for John Kirwan’s ninety metre solo effort which is still regarded as the greatest individual try in tournament history. After defeating Fiji (74-13) and Argentina (46-15) comfortably in pool play, the All Blacks progressed to the final with knockout wins over Scotland (30-3) and Wales (49-6). In the final, the All Blacks met fierce resistance from France before prevailing 29-9 to be crowned the first ever holders of the William Webb Ellis cup.
1991: A first loss
Going into the 1991 tournament as reigning champions and the team to beat, the All Blacks started strongly with an 18-12 win over tournament hosts England at Twickenham. Like 1987, Michael Jones scored the opening try of the tournament. Unfortunately, the rest of the campaign didn’t follow the same script for the All Blacks. Wins over USA (46-6) and Italy (31-21) set up a quarterfinal against Canada. A hard-earned 29-13 win over Canada set up a semifinal showdown against old foes Australia who had only just snuck home in their quarterfinal against Ireland. With David Campese, Michael Lynagh, and Nick Farr-Jones at the peak of their powers, the All Blacks were soundly beaten 6-16 to end their dream of back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles.
1995: So close, yet so far
After being omitted from the first two Rugby World Cups due to apartheid, South Africa united as the Rainbow Nation to host the 1995 tournament. Largely unknown before the start of the tournament, All Blacks left wing Jonah Lomu become a global sensation with seven tries from five games, including four against England in the semifinal. The final saw South Africa and the All Blacks clash at a packed Ellis Park in Johannesburg. After 80 minutes, nothing could separate the old rivals with the score locked at 12-12. A Joel Stransky drop goal in the second period of extra time was enough for South Africa to lift the title and spark unforgettable scenes across South Africa.
1999: French jinx
Like 1995, Jonah Lomu was once again an unstoppable force for the All Blacks. The ‘Big Guy’ ran in eight tries in the tournament to secure his place as a true legend of the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks met France in the semifinal and were looking likely to progress to the final with a lead of 24-10 early in the second half on the back of two Lomu tries. French first five Christophe Lamaison then turned the game on its head with 23 points in the second half to add to his first half try for a total of 28 points in the game as the All Blacks went down 31-43.
2003: Mortlock-ed out
The 2003 edition was hosted by reigning champions Australia and saw the All Blacks cruise through pool play with wins over Italy (70-7), Canada (68-6), Tonga (91-7) and Wales (53-37). The All Blacks then booked their fifth semi-final appearance in as many tournaments with a 29-9 quarterfinal victory over South Africa. Hosts Australia awaited the All Blacks in a blockbuster semifinal in Sydney. In a pressure filled knockout clash, Stirling Mortlock scored Australia’s only try in the 10th minute with a long-range intercept. Wallabies second five-eighth Elton Flatley landed five penalties as the All Blacks succumbed 10-22 in a game marked by steadfast defence and Mortlock’s opportunist intercept.
2007: French fried
The All Blacks entered the 2007 tournament hoping to end a 20-year Rugby World Cup drought but were instead stunned with their first ever quarterfinal exit. The Graham Henry-coached side ran hot in pool play with big wins over Scotland, Italy, Romania, and Portugal to amass a positive points differential of 274 before bizarrely playing hosts France in Cardiff. Like they did eight years earlier, France stunned the All Blacks with their unique brand of attacking play to hold on for an 18-20 victory and send the All Blacks crashing out of the tournament.
2011: Hometown heroes
A stadium of four million boosted the All Blacks hopes in 2011 as New Zealand hosted the tournament for the first time since 1987. The All Blacks went unbeaten in pool play and marched through the knockouts with comfortable wins over Argentina (33-10) in the quarterfinal and Australia (20-6) in the semifinal. The stage was set for the All Blacks to repeat their maiden Rugby World Cup win in 1987 at Eden Park with a ragged French outfit the only thing standing in their way. The All Blacks had already defeated France 37-17 in pool play and rumours of a player mutiny were swirling around the French camp following a loss to Tonga earlier in the tournament. The final turned into a pressure filled slug fest with the All Blacks sneaking home 8-7, the slimmest winning margin in a Rugby World Cup final. Stephen Donald’s 46th minute penalty has gone down in New Zealand folklore and was dramatised in the television movie ‘The Kick’.
Although the All Blacks had won two Rugby World Cup titles, they had never won one away from home. The All Blacks were tested by Argentina in their opening pool game 26-16 before running away with comfortable victories over Namibia (58-14), Georgia (43-10) and Tonga (47-9). The quarterfinal saw the All Blacks face their World Cup nemesis France in Cardiff, the scene of their 2007 quarterfinal exit. In a complete contrast to the low-scoring World Cup final between the two sides four years earlier, the All Blacks ran in nine tries, including a sensational hat-trick by Julian Savea, to secure a 62-13 victory. A tense 20-18 semifinal victory over South Africa followed before the final against Australia at Twickenham. In his final game for the All Blacks, Dan Carter kicked 19 points as the All Blacks become the first side to win back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles with a 34-17 victory.
2019: English ambush
Seeking a three-peat of Rugby World Cup titles in the first tournament to be hosted in Japan, the All Blacks got off to the best possible start with a 23-13 win over South Africa in the opening match of Pool B. Wins over Canada (63-0) and Namibia (71-9) followed but the game against Italy was cancelled due to a typhoon with both teams awarded two points. The All Blacks dispatched a highly regarded Ireland side 46-14 in the quarterfinal before facing England in the semifinal in Yokohama. England scored in just the second minute of the match through powerful midfielder Manu Tuilagi and the All Blacks never really recovered as England prevailed 7-19. The All Blacks finished the tournament in third place with a 40-17 win over Wales in the Bronze final.
Champions by year:
1987: New Zealand
1995: South Africa
2007: South Africa
2011: New Zealand
2015: New Zealand
2019: South Africa
The 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off when the All Blacks face hosts France at Stade de France on Saturday September 9 at 7.15am NZT (Friday 8 September, 8pm CEST).