Rugby World Cup – 1991 Tournament
If the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 had been dominated, as expected, by the eight International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) members, the second tournament would herald the emergence of other nations onto the world stage.
The tournament again involved 16 teams – Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Argentina, Fiji, Western Samoa, Japan, Italy, Romania, Canada, Zimbabwe and the United States – split between four pools.
However unlike four years earlier, the IRFB members – Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and Fiji were not joined by invitees but by nations who came through a qualifying process involving 32 nations.
The desire to share in the occasion saw five nations – England as hosts with Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France – stage matches, despite a belief that the tournament would work better were it staged in one country.
England and New Zealand had the honour of opening the tournament at Twickenham on 3 October, a match the defending champions won 18-12, but it was not until three days later that Rugby World Cup 1991 really came to life with an unthinkable result.
Wales, still basking in the glory of finishing third in 1987, met debutants Western Samoa at Cardiff Arms Park in a match that would go down in the history books of both Rugby World Cup and the sport in general.
Western Samoa made Wales pay for underestimating their challenge with a 16-13 victory they truly deserved, becoming the first of the ‘minnow’ nations to beat one of the IRFB members in the process.
History had been made but Western Samoa were not finished there. A respectable 9-3 loss to Australia and a 35-12 defeat of Argentina saw them reach the quarter-final with Wales the first of the big eight not to reach the knockout phase.
However Western Samoa were not the only emerging nation to reach the last eight with Canada having beaten Fiji and Romania, while losing narrowly to France, to progress from Pool 4 ... the World Cup was achieving its goal of widening the sport.
The fairytale would end in the last eight with New Zealand unconvincingly beating Canada 29-13 and Scotland ending the hopes of Western Samoa, who returned home to a heroes’ welcome in the capital Apia, with a 28-6 victory.
England overcame France 19-10 in Paris, a match that saw the 93rd and last appearance by Serge Blanco – a hero four years previously in France’s semi-final against Australia, but the best game would be Australia versus Ireland in Dublin.
Expected to win, and comfortably, Australia instead found themselves 18-15 down with five minutes to go following a try by flanker Gordon Hamilton which brought Lansdowne Road to its feet.
Australia though did not panic, stand-in captain Michael Lynagh simply called for a planned move and, as in practice sessions, it worked to put the fly-half over in the corner to clinch a 19-18 victory.
The final would feature a northern and southern hemisphere divide after England overcame Scotland, Rob Andrew’s drop goal sealing a 9-6 victory, and Australia ended New Zealand’s reign with a 16-6 success.
A capacity crowd at Twickenham saw Australia triumph 12-6 against an England side that had suddenly abandoned their feared forward approach to play a running game.
However the game was not without its controversy and is remembered for the perceived deliberate knock-on by David Campese, a star of this World Cup, which denied Rory Underwood a certain try and England a likely 12-9 lead.
The Rugby World Cup was here to stay, having captured the imaginations of a television audience of 1.75 billion across 103 countries, compared to 300 million in 17 countries in 1987.