Australia are one of only four nations to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in the 33-year history of the tournament, having done so in 1991 and 1999. But they have also experienced their fair share of disappointment and heartbreak on the sport’s biggest stage.
We take a look back at Australia’s Rugby World Cup story.
RWC debut: 23 May, 1987 v England at Concord Oval, Sydney
RWC appearances: Played 53 – Won 42, Drawn 0, Lost 11 – Points for 1,797, Points against 754 – Win percentage 79 per cent
Most RWC appearances: George Gregan, 20 (1995-2007)
Most RWC tries: Drew Mitchell, 14
Best finish: Champions 1991, 1999
Qualification for RWC 2023: Losing quarter-finalists at RWC 2019
Most memorable match: It ended in heartache, but Australia played their part in arguably the best semi-final in Rugby World Cup history at the inaugural tournament in 1987. The game was settled in France’s favour in the dying throes when, with the scores tied at 24-24, a Barbarian-style attack that weaved from one side of the pitch to the other and involved several players, ended with Serge Blanco’s spectacular dive in the corner.
Iconic moment: It was the day that David Campese established himself as one of the greats of the game. Campese scored a try with an arcing run to the line and set up another for Tim Horan with an audacious no-look, switch pass. The All Blacks had never lost a Rugby World Cup match up until that point, but they hadn’t banked on coming up against a player at his mercurial best.
Low point: Barely 30 seconds were left in Sydney when Jonny Wilkinson became a rugby immortal with a drop goal that denied the Wallabies the opportunity to become the first side to claim back-to-back titles in 2003. Losing in extra-time to England in the final of their home tournament was even more deflating than their quarter-final exit at the hands of their great rivals in 1995 – a fate they also suffered twice more, in 2007 and 2019.
Iconic player: David Campese. Player of the tournament at RWC 1991, the goose-stepping winger was at the heart of everything good about the Wallabies’ game. Campese used his mesmerising skills to score six tries and create many more for his team-mates.
Record-breaker: Australia’s 35-12 win over France in 1999 is the biggest margin of victory in a RWC final. Having produced their ‘cup final’ performance against the All Blacks in the semi-final, France struggled to raise their game and were thoroughly outplayed in Cardiff. Ben Tune and Owen Finegan scored tries for the Wallabies and the trusty boot of Matt Burke accounted for the rest of their points.
Did you know? Opponents had no answer to the defensive system master-minded by cross-code coach John Muggleton at RWC 1999. Australia only conceded one try (v USA) on their way to winning the tournament for a second time
Quote: “ … the first 40 minutes of that match was probably the best half of rugby that I have ever played in with an Australian team; it was just wonderful.” – Michael Lynagh reflects on Australia’s semi-final win over New Zealand at RWC 1991.