RWC 1991: Wallabies mean machine triumphs
AUCKLAND, 28 Aug. - Five countries shared the hosting duties for the second Rugby World Cup in 1991.
The tournament was hosted by England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, scattering 32 matches across 19 stadiums in as many cities. France hosted the most matches (eight) of any country, while Edinburgh’s Murrayfield hosted the most matches (five) of any venue.
The opening match and final took place at Twickenham in London. The host countries had all reached the quarter-finals of the inaugural World Cup in 1987, which earned automatic qualification for 1991. They were joined by Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
The other eight berths were decided by regional qualifying tournaments, unlike four years earlier, when teams were invited. From the Americas came Argentina, Canada and USA, from Europe, Italy and Romania, while Zimbabwe were the lone African participants, with the international boycott on South Africa still in effect. Western Samoa (Oceania) and Japan (Asia) also made the cut, meaning the Samoans would be the only World Cup debutants. Tonga, present four years earlier, missed out.
The 1991 World Cup was a low-scoring affair. Only 1,197 points were scored, down from 1,621 in 1987. The average points per match dropped from 50.7 to a record low 37.4. No other RWC since has averaged less than 51.6.
Struggling kickers partly accounted for the low scoring: only 88 of 148 tries were converted. The conversion rate of 59.5% was down from 66% in 1987. All World Cups since have managed at least 70.6%. Defenders dominated. The try count was down to 76 from 1987, and the average of 4.6 per match was down from the 7.0 four years earlier.
Only two penalty tries were awarded in 1991, the lowest of any tournament, with France and Scotland benefiting. Argentina's Pedro Sporleder and Western Samoa's Mata’afa Keenan were the only players at the tournament to be dismissed, sent off in the match at Pontypridd, Wales.
The tournament started on a Thursday afternoon (3 October 1991), with England hosting world champions New Zealand at Twickenham, a formidable task for the home team, who had beaten the All Blacks only three times in 15 previous meetings, and twice at Twickenham.
New Zealand laboured to an 18-12 win, having won all their 1987 World Cup matches by at least 20 points. The visitors were limited to only one four-point try and Grant Fox’s boot provided another 14 points. New Zealand's Michael Jones repeated his effort of four years earlier when he scored the first try of the tournament.
Debutants Western Samoa made an immediate impact, upsetting Wales (16-13), who had finished third in 1987. Australia soon spoiled the Samoan party when they won 9-3 in pouring rain at Pontypool in the first tryless match at a RWC. The Samoans were the only team to prevent the Wallabies scoring a try.
The Australians then went on to beat Wales 38-3 at Cardiff, the hosts' greatest home defeat at that time.
Elsewhere, Japan recorded the first RWC victory by an Asian nation, 52-8 against Zimbabwe in Belfast. It was the fifth time in six RWC matches that Zimbabwe had conceded 50 points. They have not qualified for a RWC since. Japan scored nine tries in the match, the most by a team at RWC 1991.
Zimbabwe received further punishment against Ireland in Dublin. Brian Robinson scored four tries, a record for a forward in a RWC match, surpassing Scotland's John Jeffrey, who scored a hat-trick against Romania in Dunedin in 1987.
Two of the eight qualifiers, Canada and Western Samoa, progressed to the last eight, the former becoming the first RWC quarter-finalists from the Americas. Four of the five hosts made it through, with Wales the lone casualty. Australia and New Zealand also advanced.
The quarter-finals started at Murrayfield, where Scotland ended Samoa’s World Cup dreams, Gavin Hastings putting up 16 of his 61 tournament points in the 28-6 win. Five Nations Grand Slam winners England saw off France 19-10 at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The 1987 World Cup runners-up, captained by Serge Blanco in his last Test match, had no reply to Will Carling and Rory Underwood's tries and Jon Webb's kicking.
At Lansdowne Road, Australia were leading Ireland 15-12 with five minutes to go when Gordon Hamilton broke loose for a try and Ralph Keyes added the extras to put the Irish up by three. David Campese was stopped just short of scoring his third try of the match, but he fed fly half Michael Lynagh, who crossed to salvage a dramatic win for Bob Dwyer's team.
Keyes finished the tournament with 68 points, including all of his country's 15 points against Scotland (a World Cup record), making him the tournament's top scorer. Keyes' international career, spanning only eight Tests for 94 points, was over less than four months after that RWC quarter-final loss.
In the last quarter-final, New Zealand beat Canada 29-13 in Villeneuve d'Ascq to clinch a semi-final encounter with Australia.
The first semi-final between Scotland and England at Murrayfield was an intense, tight battle. Hastings put the hosts up 6-0 with two penalty goals, but Jon Webb replied in kind to bring England level.
A Rob Andrew drop goal five minutes from the end put England ahead for the first time. It was the first drop-goal winner in a knockout match in the first tryless match in a RWC knockout encounter.
It ended in agony for the Scots, with Hastings squandering a straightforward penalty attempt late in the game. This, despite Scotland becoming the first country to hold their opposition tryless in three consecutive RWC matches, having stopped Ireland and Western Samoa in the previous two matches.
England entered the final after winning the lowest-scoring match in the knockout phase of a RWC.
At Lansdowne Road, Australia met New Zealand, who had never lost a World Cup match and were on a 10-match winning streak.
Fierce territorial battle
The Wallabies produced a clinical performance, however, to win 16-6. No team before or since has held the All Blacks under 10 points in a RWC match. It was the first time they had failed to score a try in a RWC match, having scored at least 29 points in nine of their previous 10 RWC matches.
New Zealand managed to take the bronze medal back home after beating Scotland 13-6 in Cardiff. Scotland's fourth-place finish remains their best result in a World Cup.
In the final at Twickenham on 2 November, England took on Australia. Campese had questioned England's ability to run the ball. England seemed intent on proving him wrong and failed to exploit the strength of their pack as the Wallabies took a 9-0 lead by the break.
The second half was a fierce territorial battle, with many long kicks to and fro. The hosts made it a one-score margin with nine minutes to go, but the Australians held on to win 12-6.
Fly-half Michael Lynagh scored eight of his 66 points in the final to finish second top scorer for the tournament behind Ireland’s Keyes (68), who remains the only outright RWC top scorer not to post at least a century of points.
Australia's triumph was due largely to an unyielding defence, which set a RWC record in conceding only three tries. Only Argentina's Martin Teran (twice) and Ireland's Gordon Hamilton breached the Wallabies defence. New Zealand had conceded four tries in winning RWC 1987.