Rugby World Cup - 2007 Tournament
The third Rugby World Cup to be held in Europe proved to be the most successful yet with 2.25 million spectators passing through the turnstiles in France, Scotland and Wales and four billion in 200 territories watching the action unfold on television.
They were treated to a tournament which defied expectations and dented a few reputations along the way before South Africa were crowned world champions for the second time with a 15-6 victory over surprise finalists England at the Stade de France.
Never before had a tournament produced so many surprises, the tone having been set from the opening match on 7 September when Argentina defeated France 17-12, the Pumas going at their hosts with an unrelenting ferocity from the opening whistle.
However, Argentina were not alone in the upset stakes with Fiji becoming the latest Pacific Islanders to cause Wales heartbreak on the RWC stage, delighting their new army of fans with another dashing display in winning 38-34 in Nantes.
Graham Dewes’ try four minutes from time secured victory for the Fijians and a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1987, although their colourful campaign would end there against South Africa.
These wins were nearly overshadowed by arguably the greatest upset in RWC history when Georgia came within a whisker of beating Ireland, only a Girvan Dempsey try sparing Irish blushes and denying their opponents a maiden victory to savour.
Georgia would ultimately claim that piece of history 11 days later, beating Namibia 30-0 in Lens, but their performance against Ireland showed the great strides forward they had taken since their debut four years earlier in Australia.
Their tournament was over at the end of the pool stages, but for four of the nations heading home at that point there was some solace in having confirmed their place at RWC 2011 after finishing third in their respective pools.
Returning home before the quarter finals was not what Ireland, Italy and Wales had in mind when they arrived in France and Tonga were no doubt the happier of the quartet, their 19-15 victory over Samoa ensuring they wouldn’t have to negotiate the qualifying process.
Eight nations remained and while Fiji’s challenge ended against the Springboks, the shockwaves continued to reverberate around RWC 2007 as defending champions England, who had stuttered through the pool stages, edged Australia 12-10 in the first quarter final.
A bigger shock was to follow, though as France again proved the nemesis of New Zealand on the Rugby World Cup stage, Les Bleus able to cast aside the burden of playing before their expectant fans and blossom at the Millennium Stadium to stun the All Blacks 20-18.
While New Zealand’s wait to lift the Webb Ellis Cup would grow to 24 years, Argentina’s fairytale continued with a 19-13 win over Scotland securing a first ever semi final. The emotional rollercoaster ended against South Africa, but the Pumas had made their mark.
Another passionate and pulsating performance from Agustín Pichot and co saw off France for the second time in the Bronze Final, a stark contrast to the title decider between England and South Africa a day later at the Stade de France.
The Final was a heavyweight contest with expansive rugby at a premium, a far cry from other matches at France 2007, but it mattered little to the Springboks after the boots of Percy Montgomery and Francois Steyn kicked them to a second world title.
RWC 2007 had been a record breaker long before the first whistle was blown, the race to get to France involving a record 86 countries and territories playing in 191 matches over 932 days as Argentina, Canada, USA, Romania, Italy, Namibia, Japan, Georgia, Tonga and RWC debutants Portugal booked their place alongside the 2003 quarter finalists.