Rugby World Cup: Past Champions

Find out which four countries claimed the previous six editions of the Rugby World Cup, which has grown to become one of the world's top sporting competitions since it was first staged in 1987.
John Smit, with trophy, and the rest of the Springboks exult in winning a second Rugby World Cup on Oct. 20, 2007. ((Tertius Pickard/Getty Images) )

A look at the six previous Rugby World Cups:

2007 Rugby World Cup

Winner: South Africa

Final: Defeated England 15-6 at St-Denis

World Cup organizers said the sixth edition of tournament in France was their most successful with broadcast coverage and overall attendance, including 80,000-plus at the final at Stade de France in Paris.

England had upset Australia 12-10 in the quarter-final in a rematch of the 2003 final at Sydney and again Jonny Wilkinson was the star, kicking all of England's points.

England then beat hosts France 14-9 while South Africa beat Argentina 37-13.

France had delighted its home crowd by beating favoured New Zealand 20-18 in the quarter-finals in a shocking day that saw both Australia and the All Blacks beaten by European sides in the space of six hours.

South Africa had defeated England 36-0 in pool play and was the only undefeated team in the competition heading into the Oct. 20 final.

The championship match was tryless, with four penalties by fullback Percy Montgomery and one by centre Francois Steyn providing the Springboks with their points.

Wilkinson once again provided all of England's points with a pair of penalties.

The South African win meant that, of the five countries that have appeared in a World Cup final, including England, Australia, New Zealand and France, only the Springboks (2-0) have not lost a final.

Australia is 2-1, England 1-2, New Zealand 1-1 and France 0-2.

The 2007 World Cup marked the end of the international careers of Wallabies halves George Gregan and Stephen Larkham and England's Jason Robinson.

It also ended the careers of several coaches: Wales coach Gareth Jenkins was out of a job before the tournament was over; France coach Bernard Laporte quit after finishing fourth and Australia's John Connolly was looking for work by late November after his team's quarterfinal exit.

Jake White resigned as coach 12 days after the Springboks' win in Paris after a domestic rugby board squabble.

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan survived — at least initially — his team's poorest tournament performance as did New Zealand's Graham Henry, who became the first All Blacks coach to retain his job after a World Cup failure.

Henry gets another crack at a World Cup when he leads New Zealand at home in this year's seventh World Cup tournament. O'Sullivan is back, too.

But this time he'll do it with the United States, which lost all four of its pool games in 2007.

2003 Rugby World Cup

Winner: England

Final: Defeated Australia 20-17 at Sydney

Flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson's dropped goal with just 26 seconds left in extra time at Sydney gave England a three-point win, made him a megastar in the sport and earned Clive Woodward an eventual knighthood back in Britain.

It was the first — and still only — title won by a northern hemisphere team in the tournament.

The event was hosted solely by Australia, although New Zealand was supposed to have shared hosting rights until a contractual dispute over ground signage rights between the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and Rugby World Cup Limited forced all New Zealand matches to be moved to Australia.

England was in superb form leading into the tournament and considered a favourite for the title, but had a difficult time against an unconventional Australian lineup which grew in confidence throughout the tournament.

England beat France 24-7 in the semifinals and Australia defeated New Zealand 22-10.

Wilkinson kicked four penalties before his dropped goal in the Nov. 22 final in Sydney which sparked mass celebrations on the other side of the planet.

The England rugby team returned home three days later and, despite arriving at Heathrow Airport in the early hours of the morning, thousands of fans turned out to give them a welcome.

On Dec. 8, 2003, an open-air parade of players in double-decker buses through London gathered an estimated 750,000 spectators.

It ended with a champagne reception at 10 Downing Street, the home of the British prime minister, and later a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

"I see it as something that's happened to me because of what everyone else has done," Wilkinson told the crowd.

"I keep putting that across. But it's true.

"Because of the individuality of the kicking, I seem to get singled out. But it's down to everyone else."

Always a country to acknowledge its sporting heroes, in the New Year's honours list for 2004, Woodward was given his knighthood, team captain Martin Johnson a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) and most of the squad, including Wilkinson, an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

1999 Rugby World Cup

Winner: Australia

Final: Defeated France 35-12 at Cardiff

The first World Cup to be held in the professional era of rugby union and Australia picked up its second title with victory over France in the final at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Wales was the principal host, but England, France, Scotland and Ireland once again shared the hosting as they had in 1991, when Australia won its first title.

The tournament included 20 teams and had a second-chance round for teams that finished runner-up in each qualifying zone ahead of the finals.

For the first time, a change in the format meant the big eight rugby nations did not qualify automatically.

Only the champions, the runners-up, the third place playoff winners from 1995 and the host nation were given automatic entry.

South Africa, New Zealand, France and Wales were assured of their places in the expanded tournament with 65 nations taking part in the qualifying process for the other 16 places.

Jonah Lomu scored eight tries in the tournament for New Zealand, but the All Blacks capitulated in the semifinals in a 43-31 loss to France, despite Lomu's two tries and a big early lead.

Australia beat South Africa 27-21 in the semifinals with Stephen Larkham's wobbly late dropped goal helping give the Wallabies a buffer, to advance to the final before 74,500 fans.

Ben Tune and Owen Finegan scored Australian tries and Matthew Burke kicked seven penalties and two conversions for 25 points in the lopsided decider.

Christophe Lamaison scored all of France's points with four penalties.

Legendary Wallabies skipper John Eales said Australia took advantage of its situation in both World Cup victories.

"In both cases, we were teams on the rise," Eales said. "You never want to say a team is at its peak because that's, basically, admitting you're on the way down.

"But we were able to seize the moment in 1991 and 1999."

1995 Rugby World Cup

Winner: South Africa

Final: Defeated New Zealand 15-12 at Johannesburg

This edition was all about South Africa.

It was the first World Cup final needing extra time and also one of the most dramatic and touching for the hosts.

Playing in the tournament for the first time following the end of apartheid rule, the Springboks emerged victorious at Ellis Park in Johannesburg before 63,000 fans, including then-president Nelson Mandela.

Joel Stransky provided all of South Africa's points, including his dropped goal in extra time that sealed the win, and Andrew Mehrtens had all of New Zealand's points.

Following the win, Mandela, wearing a cap and Springboks, once considered symbolic of the apartheid regime, presented the Webb Ellis Trophy to South African captain Francois Pienaar.

Mandela and Pienaar's involvement in the World Cup was the subject of the 2009 film Invictus, citing several meetings between the pair, and Mandela's insistence that black South Africans not scrap the Springboks name for the national rugby team at the risk of more racial alienation.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mandela, or Madiba as he is affectionately known by millions, became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in prison for his fight against racist apartheid rule.

There were a number of conspiracy theories surrounding New Zealand's unexpected loss, including that many of the New Zealand players may have been suffering from food poisoning in the two days leading up to the final.

New Zealand coach Laurie Mains alleged a mysterious waitress known as "Suzie" had deliberately poisoned the All Blacks' water.

Other All Blacks blamed a pizza restaurant for the sickness, while there were yet other rumours that included listening devices purported to have been installed at the New Zealand team hotel.

1991 Rugby World Cup

Winner: Australia

Final: Defeated England 12-6 at London

Rugby's spiritual home at Twickenham, London, provided the venue for the first of Australia's two World Cup titles with Nick Farr-Jones as captain and Bob Dwyer as coach.

The second edition of the tournament was hosted by five countries — England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France — the collection with comprised the then Five Nations.

England beat Scotland 9-6 in the semifinals and Australia defeated New Zealand 16-6.

In the final, England changed tactics, abandoning its preference for 10-man rugby dominated by forward play and Rob Andrew's kicking in a bid to beat the Wallabies at their own game — running rugby.

It backfired for the English.

Tony Daly scored the only try for Australia in the match, but the try most often talked about is the one that England didn't score.

Down 12-3, England had an overlap, but Australian winger David Campese deliberately knocked forward rather than attempt to cleanly intercept a pass that had been destined for an open Rory Underwood.

England argued that Underwood would have easily crossed for the try, while the Australians said he would have been caught by their defenders.

The Australians were relieved to make the final, and had nothing to lose after their narrow quarter-final win over Ireland at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, which rates among the all-time classic matches in World Cup history.

Ireland nearly pulled off an astonishing upset, with only some last-minute heroics giving Australia a 19-18 victory.

With five minutes remaining and Ireland trailing 15-12, flanker Gordon Hamilton left Australian winger David Campese in his wake as he sprinted 40 metres for a try.

Ralph Keyes slotted the conversion from the far left to give Ireland a three-point lead.

Moments later, Ireland conceded a penalty and Australia flyhalf Michael Lynagh, rather than take a shot at a penalty goal to level the scores, took a quick tap.

The Irish defence attempted to cover the ploy, but Tim Horan and Jason Little each made valuable gains before Campese leapt for the line, falling just short.

Campese, however, lofted the ball to Lynagh, who crossed for the winning points.

Lynagh, who went on to captain Australia from 1993 to 1995 and played 72 tests over 11 years, said he's been asked about that try more than any other in his career.

"I scored or kicked more than 900 points for Australia, but those four always seems to come up in any conversation," Lynagh told The Associated Press shortly after he retired from international rugby following Australia's loss to England in the 1995 World Cup quarter-finals.

1987 Rugby World Cup

Winner: New Zealand

Final: Defeated France 29-9 at Auckland

Who can forget the first and, unfortunately for New Zealand's long-suffering fans, the only title win by the All Blacks, who have been favoured for every World Cup since then but have come up short.

This one and only came at home when they shared the hosting rights with Australia, and New Zealand's rugby fans will only hope that history repeats itself 24 years later when they have the tournament all to themselves.

South Africa was not able to compete in 1987 due to the international sports boycott in the apartheid era, policies that New Zealand rugby fans strongly protested during a Springbok tour in 1981.

There was no qualifying tournament for the first World Cup. Seven of the 16 spots were given to the leading International Rugby Football Board members: New Zealand; Australia; England, France; New Zealand; Scotland; and Wales.

The remaining nine spots were given out by invitation to Argentina, Fiji, Italy, Canada, Romania, Tonga, Japan, Zimbabwe and the United States.

New Zealand's win in the final at Auckland's Eden Park came after France had an upset 30-24 win over Australia in Sydney in the semifinals and the Kiwis overwhelmed Wales 49-6 at Brisbane's Ballymore.

But the big win over Australia seemed to take all the sting out of the French and New Zealand dominated the final.

New Zealand flyhalf Grant Fox kicked for territory or goal for much of the match and accumulated 17 points.

Michael Jones, stand-in captain David Kirk and John Kirwan scored tries for the All Blacks and Pierre Berbizier the only try for the French.

Rugby was still an amateur game at this stage and several websites still report somewhat quirkily that New Zealand fullback John Gallagher, who had been one of the stars for the winners, was back on his policeman's beat the next morning.