So as promised, I will endeavour to write a review of EVERY Rugby World Cup over the close season, and the most obvious starting point is of course, the inaugural RWC in 1987. In 87, I have to admit, I wasn't yet a rugby fan. I'd only just played New Image rugby (now tag rugby) for the first time and hadn't been introduced to Kingsholm or Gloucester rugby at this point. I had watched some of the old 5 Nations on Grandstand but didn't really know what was going on! I was a staunch football fan, and for me at the time, the greatest event of 1987 was my hometown heroes, Coventry City winning the FA Cup against Spurs!
Jointly hosted between New Zealand and Australia, the first rugby world cup was a 16 team tournament played in the summer months (22 May to 20 June, to be exact!) and was an invitational tournament, with no prior qualification. The teams involved were Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Argentina, Fiji, Romania, Italy, Canada, Japan, Tonga, France, the USA and Zimbabwe. You'll already have noticed a couple of big names missing, South Africa were uninvolved in International sports due to the Apartheid that was rife in the country and controversially, Western Samoa weren't invited to play, despite being better than a few of the invited sides. The USSR also declined an invitation, which was rumoured to be due to South Africa having IRFB (International Rugby Football Board) membership. The very first Rugby World Cup match was New Zealand vs Italy. One sided was the best way to describe it, with the All Blacks turning in a 70 points to 6, 12 try blowout victory! Italy were very greatful that tries were still only worth 4 points in them days! The Kiwi's actually repeated the 12 try trick in their next game against Fiji, where they were 74 - 13 winners, the biggest score of the tournament. France also mustered a 70 point game winning 70 - 12 against Zimbabwe The group stages were peppered with many lopsided results, with 12 games out of 24 seeing one side score at least 40 points, somewhat understandable when you think that Union was still pretty much an amateur sport worldwide in them days. Very few players had ventured abroad to play and the Pro Leagues were either yet to be formed, or in their infancy, and sides like Argentina, Italy et al were far from the class of their sides we see nowadays. The first knockout round (the Quarter finals) saw New Zealand see off the Scots, Wales knock out England, France beat Fiji and Australia take out Ireland, with the Semi Finals matching up New Zealand vs Wales and France vs Australia. The Semi Finals were both held in Australia, though the All Blacks made themselves at home and destroyed Wales 49 points to 6, Australia were knocked out in their own back yard by the French in a fantastic 30 - 24 match setting up 2 Northern Hemisphere vs Southern Hemisphere matches, New Zealand vs France in the final and Wales vs Australia in the 3rd place playoff. Wales managed to pip the star studded Aussies 22 - 21 to claim the third step of the podium and the Kiwi's continued their destruction of the 5 nations sides with a 29 - 9 victory at Eden Park to give them the very first ownership of the Webb Ellis cup and David Kirk (spoiler for Sunday's blog) was the first skipper to lift the famous cup! The top points and top try scorers at the tournament, were rather unsurprisingly, All Blacks. The legendary Grant Fox racked up 126 points to claim the points scoring crown, and the equally legendary John Kirwan shared the try scoring mantel with another Kiwi, the slightly less renowned Craig Green who both had 6 tries apiece, Green grabbing 4 tries in the game against Fiji (as did Lewisham born John Gallagher in the same game!) The tournament was clearly a huge success as the format was tweaked and taken to England in 1991 where the All Blacks would try and defend their crown. If you don't know the result..... keep your eyes peeled for the next installment!!!