The seven World Cups have showcased some of rugby’s most iconic moments, leaving fans across the world to cry tears of joy and disappointment in equal measure. Here are our top 5 most memorable moments from tournaments gone by…
Jonny’s golden boot – 2003
It’s one of those ‘Where were you when…’ moments that no England fan will ever forget. With the tournament taking place in Australia, it was an early morning kick-off for those watching in Blighty, but sleepy eyes were nowhere to be seen. Whether you’d pulled your white jersey on and traipsed to your local or watched the match in your pyjamas in the living room at home, the nail-biting action soon had you perched on the edge of your seat!
England just couldn’t shake the Wallabies off, with Elton Flatley kicking equalising penalties in the 80th and 97th minutes, keeping the Ozzies in the match. But then, in the last minute of the final, Jonny Wilkinson put all those hours of kicking practice to the test and dropped the goal to win the trophy, and change English rugby’s landscape forever. Euphoria!
Ohh la la! 2011
You’ve got to love France. The most unpredictable team in world rugby, on their day they’ve produced some spine tingling moments. Think the 2011 World Cup final, when Thierry Dusautoir’s team joined hands and lined up in a V shape, advancing on the haka before pushing New Zealand to the limit. It was the All Blacks who took home the trophy, but blindside Dusautoir returned to France a hero.
But when Les Bleus are bad, they’re very, very bad, and at the same event in 2011, Tonga took full advantage. The Pacific Islanders probably butchered five try-scoring opportunities that day, which tells you how slack the Frenchmen were, but Tonga still triumphed 19-14 – the French simply had nothing in their locker. Had they been sampling some New Zealand wine the night before?! Their players may as well have stayed in the changing room, as the Tongans danced around them with little challenge, with fly-half Kurt Morath kicking 14 of their points. It was only a losing bonus point that allowed France to progress out of the pool.
South Africa in the spotlight – 1995
Aside from the fact that South Africa pulled off one of the World Cup’s biggest upsets to defeat New Zealand at Ellis Park, the 1995 final produced one of rugby’s proudest pictures. The image of Nelson Mandela handing the Webb Ellis cup to Francois Pienaar is one that’s transcended sport.
At the time, South Africa was still suffering from huge social problems due to the apartheid, and Mandela saw the potential that sport had to reunite the rainbow nation. He wore the green Springbok jersey and cap to watch the match, in an attempt to win over some support from the Afrikaaners, having been elected as president a year earlier.
Pienaar, who asked Mandela to be godfather to his two sons years later, inspired his team to victory, though there was some controversy over selection – there was only one black man in the team, and some claimed he was only selected for political reasons. Chester Williams sliced through the defence of the All Blacks, though, to silence the critics after the final.
Sam sees red – 2011
With England, Ireland and Scotland out of the competition, every home nations fan turned into a Welsh supporter as they went into the semi-final against France.
It was all going so well for Wales. They were 80 minutes away from getting a shot at the trophy at Eden Park. But 18 minutes in, Sam Warburton put in a big hit on Vincent Clerc. With tensions running high, they collided at such speed that Clerc was lifted up into the air, his feet ending up above his head. And then he came back down to earth with a bang, hitting the deck with a thud and landing on his back.
Irish referee Alain Rolland went into his pocket, and pulled out a red card to the shock of the crowd. Even the commentators had to clarify that they’d seen red, not yellow, which would have been harsh for the offence itself – a penalty would have been punishment enough. You could’ve heard a pin drop at the Millennium Stadium, where fans had gathered to watch the game on the big screen. But it was devastating for no one more than the captain, Warburton, who was left to watch the final 60 minutes of the game with tears pricking his eyes.
England steam rolled – 1995
The 1995 England v New Zealand semi-final was Jonah Lomu at his best. It was like watching a game of schools rugby, where one side has brought in a ringer from the year above. Lomu’s size, skills and power… it was hardly even fair!
Tony Underwood, Will Carling and Mike Catt – three of England’s finest – didn’t know what had happened when the 20-year-old sidestepped, brushed off and simply ran over them to score the opening try of the match. And then he did it again, and again, and again, as he scored four tries in a one-sided 45-29 All Black victory.
These days players the size and speed of Julian Savea, George North and Manu Tuilagi are more commonplace, but in 1995, it was like a new breed of rugby player had been introduced. Got some spare time coming up? That semi-final is on YouTube. Watch it – it’s a masterclass!