10 of the biggest upsets in international rugby history
Anyone who has watched Mario Ledesma’s emotional reaction to Argentina’s defeat of New Zealand on Saturday, will know how much it meant.
Los Pumas first played a test against the All Blacks in 1976, and in the intervening 44 years had suffered some heavy defeats and a few near misses, as they searched for a first win.
The team’s long wait finally came to an end in stunning fashion last weekend as Nicolás Sánchez scored every one of his side’s 25 points at Bankwest Stadium.
“We’ll remember this for a long time – not only because of the game but this special situation that got us to the time,” Ledesma said after the match, as his players celebrated with the Pumas fans in attendance in New South Wales.
The party might have ended for now, but as Argentina prepare for a Tri Nations meeting with hosts Australia on Sunday, we look back at some of the biggest upsets in the history of international rugby.
New Zealand 15-25 Argentina, Bankwest Stadium, 14 November, 2020
Pablo Matera’s fourth-minute chat with referee Angus Gardner seemed to set the tone for an emotionally intense performance from Los Pumas. Argentina had not played for more than a year and had spent much of 2020 locked down and apart, but dominated the All Blacks from the off in Parramatta.
Nicolás Sánchez and Richie Mo’unga traded early penalties, but thereafter Argentina and their fly-half assumed control. It was Sánchez who pounced on the bouncing ball to score his side’s only try, which he then converted. And, the playmaker sent a total of six penalties sailing over the crossbar to amass a record points tally for an Argentine against New Zealand. Los Pumas led by a record score against the All Blacks at half-time (16-3) and despite two late tries, they comfortably held on to secure a first ever victory against the three-time Rugby World Cup winners.
Fiji 27-30 Uruguay, Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, 25 September, 2019
Uruguay had faced Fiji four times in their history ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019 and had lost on each occasion. The team’s most recent meeting prior to their Pool D match in Kamaishi, meanwhile, was a 68-7 victory for the Pacific Island nation just 10 months before. Nine of the Uruguay 15 that lined up at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium had also started that match in Gloucester, but they refused to be overawed.
Even an early Mesulame Dolokoto try did not knock Los Teros off their task, and three first-half scores helped the South Americans build a 24-12 half-time lead. Fiji would breach the Uruguayan line a total of five times, but a combination of missed conversions and the trusty boot of Felipe Berchesi ensured a famous win. Cue wild celebrations and a congratulatory tweet from current Atletico Madrid star Luis Suárez.
New Zealand Women 7-29 France Women, Mikuni World Stadium, 20 April, 2019
Les Bleues had fond memories of the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens, having reached their first ever HSBC World Sevens Series final at the tournament in 2018. However, their path to glory on that occasion was blocked by the Black Ferns Sevens, who beat France in both the pool stage and final. Heading into their Pool A meeting 12 months later, the two teams had met 21 times without France recording a single victory. New Zealand, meanwhile, were on a 38-match winning run on the series.
The Black Ferns Sevens’ unbeaten streak was brought to an end in stunning circumstances at the Mikuni World Stadium. Séraphine Okemba opened the scoring in only the second minute, before two Anne-Cecile Ciofani tries either side of half-time gave France a 19-0 lead. Cheyelle Robins-Reti converted her own try to give New Zealand hope, but Shannon Izar and Chloe Pelle both went over in the closing stages to confirm an emphatic, and historic, victory for France.
South Africa 32-34 Japan, Brighton Community Stadium, 19 September, 2015
Japan had never played South Africa prior to Rugby World Cup 2015, but few outside of the team’s tournament base gave them much hope against the Pool B seeds. The Brave Blossoms had not won a Rugby World Cup match in over 20 years, while the Springboks had lifted the Webb Ellis Cup twice. But unbeknown to the watching world, coach Eddie Jones had been preparing for this match for much of the previous three years.
Tries from Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis — either side of a Michael Leitch effort — gave the Springboks a slender 12-10 lead at half-time in Brighton. South Africa breached the Japanese line twice more after the break, but an Ayumu Goromaru score allied to the full-back’s trusty boot ensured the match remained in the balance. With time running out, and South Africa holding a slender three-point lead, Japan were twice awarded a penalty. Captain Leitch turned down the three points, and draw, on offer each time, and his bravery was rewarded as Karne Hesketh squeezed over in the left corner to score the match-winning try.
New Zealand Women 15-19 Spain Women, Twickenham Stoop, 15 May, 2015
The Black Ferns Sevens arrived in Twickenham on a 36-match winning run, and stretched that streak as they opened their London Sevens 2015 campaign with a 34-0 defeat of Brazil. Next up for New Zealand were Spain, who they had beaten in each of their previous five meetings by an aggregate score of 140-32. Only four weeks previously the Black Ferns had beaten Spain 45-10 in Langford.
Proceedings appeared to be conforming to a similar script as Shiray Kaka scored two first-half tries to give New Zealand a 10-0 lead. Patricia Garcia scored a crucial try at the end of the opening period, however, and after Berta Garcia crossed for a second shortly after half-time, Spain led 14-10. Katarina Whata-Simpkins put New Zealand back in front with a third try, but missed conversions would ultimately prove costly. Elisabet Martínez made a break with the last play of the match, and found Patricia Garcia in support, who sprinted over to score, and make history.
New Zealand Women 14-17 Ireland Women, Marcoussis, 5 August, 2014
The meeting between New Zealand and Ireland at Rugby World Cup 2014 was destined to be a historic one as it was the first meeting between the nations in a women’s test match. Both teams had opened their Pool B campaign with a win, but on the face of it, that was where the similarities ended. The Black Ferns were four-time defending champions, while Ireland’s best finish had been seventh.
Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan and her team-mates believed they were capable of causing an upset, however. “It was something that everyone within the squad felt was within us,” she told World Rugby earlier this year. And so it proved. Despite conceding an early Selica Winiata try, Ireland hit back through Heather O’Brien before half-time. Niamh Briggs converted, and although Kelly Brazier’s boot kept the Black Ferns in front, Alison Miller produced a stunning finish on the hour to help edge Ireland into a 14-11 lead. Brazier levelled the scores from the kicking tee, but it was Briggs who had the final say as her 70th-minute penalty proved decisive.
Wales 19-21 Hong Kong, Hong Kong Stadium, 27 March, 2010
Wales had caused a couple of upsets of their own as they beat New Zealand, Samoa and Argentina en route to winning Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 12 months previously. Although they had struggled to convert that success into consistency on the World Rugby Sevens Series, a team containing Alex Cuthbert, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb and Lloyd Williams would have backed themselves to beat the hosts at Hong Kong Stadium.
The teams had met four times dating back to 2000, with Wales winning each encounter. When Cuthbert scored his second try of the match midway through the second half, it gave Wales a 19-14 lead. The future British and Irish Lions winger came within metres of completing a hat-trick with a minute of the match left but Hong Kong were able to regain possession and launched a counter-attack that ended with Anthony Haynes touching down under the posts. Keith Robertson added his third conversion of the contest to confirm a famous win.
France 12-17 Argentina, Stade de France, 7 September, 2007
France and Argentina had met 38 times in tests prior to Rugby World Cup 2007, with Les Bleus emerging victorious in 30 of those matches, including the RWC 1999 quarter-final. As hosts of RWC 2007, France were keen to maintain their superiority against a Los Pumas team containing current coach Mario Ledesma, in what was the opening match of the tournament.
However, Les Bleus trailed in the fifth minute, when Felipe Contepomi struck a penalty through the uprights. David Skrela soon replied with three points of his own, but Contepomi added two further penalties in the opening 24 minutes. Shortly after his third, France flanker Rémy Martin threw an interception that led to the match’s only try, scored by Argentina full-back Ignacio Corleto. Skrela and Contepomi traded penalties to leave the score at 17-9 at half-time. Although the former added his fourth three-pointer after the break, France could not find a way back into the game. Los Pumas returned to haunt the hosts in the third-place play-off, beating Les Bleus 34-10 at Parc des Princes six weeks later.
France 43-31 New Zealand, Twickenham, 31 October, 1999
The All Blacks appeared to be conducting a march towards a third final in four Rugby World Cups as they faced France — the team they had beaten in the tournament’s first final 12 years earlier — in a semi-final at Twickenham in 1999. Only four months previously, New Zealand had beaten Les Bleus 54-7 in Wellington and the All Blacks were heavy favourites.
It was France who struck first in front of 70,000 fans in south-west London, however, as Christophe Lamaison crossed the whitewash, and converted, to give his side a 10-6 lead. Normal service appeared to have resumed as two trademark Jonah Lomu scores either side of half-time helped give the All Blacks a 24-10 lead. That was until a brace of Lamaison drop goals altered the momentum of the match. France stunned their opponents with three second-half tries, through Christophe Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Philippe Bernat-Salles which helped turn a 14-point deficit into a 43-24 advantage. Jeff Wilson added a late try for the All Blacks, but it was nothing more than a consolation. France went on to lose the RWC 1999 final to Australia.
Wales 13-16 Western Samoa, Cardiff Arms Park, 6 October, 1991
Playing their opening match of Rugby World Cup 1991 on home soil, against a team making its tournament debut, Wales were expected to beat Western Samoa before turning their attention to ‘tougher’ tests. Wales had beaten Samoa on the teams’ two previous meetings, but this was a different side to the ones defeated 32-14 and 28-6 respectively.
Peter Fatialofa, who captained a side featuring Frank Bunce, Pat Lam, Brian Lima and Apollo Perelini, reportedly told his team-mates that “the Welsh have never seen tackling like Samoan tackling”, and so it transpired. Following a low-scoring first half that finished 3-3, the Pacific Island nation seized the initiative with two tries in the opening 11 minutes of the second, scored by To'o Vaega and Tuala Sila Vaifale. An Arthur Emyr try gave Wales hope, but Matthew Vaea’s second penalty effectively sealed the historic Samoan victory before a late Ieuan Evans consolation. The legendary Lima described the win as “one of the best moments in my rugby career”.
Samoa returned to Cardiff to play, and beat Wales again at RWC 1999.
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