The eyes of fans across the globe were trained on Paris on Monday as the Rugby World Cup 2023 Draw took place at the Palais Brongniart.
And, the ceremony certainly did not disappoint as a number of mouthwatering pool matches were drawn for the showpiece tournament.
So, as New Zealand prepare to face hosts France, South Africa size up Ireland and Scotland, Wales get reacquainted with Australia and Fiji, and England focus on Japan and Argentina, we take a look back at 10 classic pool matches from the archives.
France 20-20 Scotland, Lancaster Park, 23 May, 1987
France and Scotland made their entrance onto the Rugby World Cup stage on the second day of the inaugural tournament. The teams’ previous two Five Nations meetings had been decided by a converted try or less, with the home side winning on each occasion. So, the Pool 4 match in Christchurch was anticipated to be a tight one — and so it proved.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when a long Colin Deans lineout throw found Finlay Calder, and the flanker fed Derek White to score. The conversion was missed, but full-back Gavin Hastings connected with four penalties to give Scotland a 16-6 lead early in the second half. Les Bleus rallied, however, and tries from Philippe Sella, Pierre Berbizier and Serge Blanco gave them a 20-16 advantage heading into injury time.
But, there was time for one last Scottish surge, which ended with White giving a scoring pass to Matt Duncan, who dove over in the right corner. Hastings was unable to add the extras from a tight angle, meaning the match finished in an exhilarating draw.
Wales 13-16 Samoa, Cardiff Arms Park, 6 October, 1991
This was Wales’ first Rugby World Cup match since their bronze final win in 1987, and playing at home against a team making its tournament debut they were expected by many to win. However, the intervening four years had not been kind to the hosts, who had won just one Five Nations match in the previous three Championships. Moreover, fly-half Mark Ring had only recently undergone a knee operation and Wales were facing a Samoa team featuring Frank Bunce, Brian Lima, Pat Lam and Apollo Perelini.
Ring kicked a first-half penalty to level the score at 3-3, but the match turned on a To'o Vaega try early in the second period. Matthew Vaea added the conversion to his earlier penalty and by the time Tuala Sila Vaifale also crossed the whitewash Samoa led 13-3. Wales rallied with just under 20 minutes to go as Arthur Emyr notched a converted try, but another Vaea penalty stretched the Samoan lead to seven points.
Wales winger Ieuan Evans scored a late try but it was not enough to prevent defeat. Eight years later, Samoa returned to Cardiff and repeated the trick, winning 38-31 at RWC 1999.
South Africa 27-18 Australia, Newlands Stadium, 25 May, 1995
South Africa had been barred from the first two Rugby World Cups, so made their debut as hosts at the third edition of the tournament. The team’s opening assignment could not have been more difficult, with the Wallabies providing the opposition in the first match of RWC 1995. And, it was Australia who took the early initiative as fly-half Michael Lynagh converted his own try to put his side 13-9 in front.
Victory was integral for the hosts as they attempted to build belief they could go on and win the tournament, and the Springboks hit back before half-time as Pieter Hendriks scored in the left corner. South Africa took control of the match after the break, and fly-half Joel Stransky added a fourth penalty, a drop goal and converted his own try as the Wallabies conceded 18 unanswered points.
It meant that Phil Kearns’ late try was nothing more than a consolation as the Springboks kicked off what would become a historic tournament in fitting style.
Italy 25-28 Tonga, Welford Road, 10 October, 1999
Having been drawn alongside England and New Zealand in Pool B, this match represented both sides’ best chance of a victory at RWC 1999. More than 10,000 fans packed into Welford Road on a dark Sunday night, and they would be treated to a scintillating see-saw fixture.
Azzurri fly-half Diego Dominguez got his side on the scoreboard first, with two penalties in the opening quarter. However, as the clock ticked towards half-time, Tonga seized the initiative with tries from Taunaholo Taufahema and Sateki Tuipulotu, the first of which was converted by the latter. Dominguez and Tuipulotu each struck a brace of penalties before the break, while the Italian playmaker added his fifth three-pointer seven minutes into the second half.
Italy then took a four-point lead when hooker Alessandro Moscardi burrowed over from close range, and Dominguez converted. That was far from the final twist in proceedings, however. Isileli Fatani crossed for a converted try in the 79th minute, which gave Tonga a 25-22 advantage with time running out. But, there was still time for Dominguez to send his sixth penalty through the uprights, to level the scores. It looked as though the match was heading for a draw until, in the 86th minute, Tongan full-back Tuipulotu struck a mammoth drop goal to seal victory.
New Zealand 53-37 Wales, Telstra Stadium, 2 November, 2003
Both teams had qualified for the quarter-finals when they met in their final Pool D match at RWC 2003. New Zealand were the favourites to beat Wales and secure top spot, and the All Blacks duly ran in four tries in the opening half an hour to open up a 28-10 lead in front of 80,012 fans at Telstra Stadium.
Wales had scored a 12th-minute try through Mark Taylor and crossed the whitewash twice more before half-time through Sonny Parker, following an electric Shane Williams break, and captain Colin Charvis. When Williams skipped over the line for his side’s fourth try five minutes into the second half, Wales led 34-28. However, Doug Howlett breached the Welsh defence soon after to cut the All Blacks’ deficit to a point.
Stephen Jones converted his third penalty in the 53rd minute to stretch his side’s lead to four points. But, Wales had little answer as Carlos Spencer, Howlett and Aaron Mauger ran in further tries in the final 10 minutes to confirm a 16th successive victory for New Zealand in the fixture, and third at Rugby World Cup.
France 12-17 Argentina, Stade de France, 7 September, 2007
Argentina had hinted at their potential at the previous two Rugby World Cups, but the opening match of RWC 2007 was undoubtedly Los Pumas’ coming-out party. Ahead of the tournament, France had won 30 of their 38 meetings with Argentina, but they went behind early in Paris against a Los Pumas side that contained current coach Mario Ledesma.
Felipe Contepomi struck three penalties in the opening 24 minutes to give Los Pumas a 9-3 lead. Not long after his third, France flanker Rémy Martin threw a pass that was picked off by Argentine wing Horacio Agulla, and recycled through the hands of Manuel Contepomi to full-back Ignacio Corleto, who sprinted clear to score the game’s only try.
Felipe Contepomi and David Skrela exchanged penalties before the break, and although the latter added the only points of the second period, the hosts were unable to find a way back into the match. Los Pumas returned to Paris later in the tournament to beat France 34-10 in the bronze final at the Parc des Princes.
Wales 34-38 Fiji, Stade de la Beaujoire, 29 September, 2007
Wales captain Gareth Thomas led the teams out in Nantes on the occasion of his 100th test appearance for his country, but it is not one the great full-back will look back on too fondly. Although Wales were favourites to win the Pool B match and secure their passage to the RWC 2007 quarter-finals, it was Fiji who began the match in dominant mood.
Akapusi Qera, Vilimoni Delasau and Kele Leawere all breached the Welsh defence in the opening 25 minutes to give the Flying Fijians a 25-3 lead. Wales, who were in danger of being overwhelmed, struck back before half-time as Alix Popham touched down following a powerful attacking scrum. Shane Williams added a stunning second within five minutes of the interval, before Thomas marked his centenary with a score and Mark Jones finished in the right corner.
Jones’ try had given Wales a 29-25 lead, but Nicky Little soon put Fiji back in front with his third and fourth penalties of the afternoon. It looked as though they might not be enough, however, when Martyn Williams intercepted a pass from the Fiji fly-half to race away and score the fifth Welsh try with seven minutes left. But, Wales were unable to hold out and after Delasau was stopped short, hooker Graham Dewes picked up from the ruck and flopped over the line to confirm a famous victory.
France 14-19 Tonga, Wellington Regional Stadium, 1 October, 2011
France had beaten Tonga in two of the teams’ three meetings prior to RWC 2011, and Les Bleus arrived in Wellington for their Pool A match expected to make it three out of four. Due to an earlier defeat to Canada, it would have taken a large margin of victory for Tonga to have a chance of making the quarter-finals at France’s expense, but they clearly were in no mood to make it easy for their opponents.
Dimitri Yachvili opened the scoring with a second-minute penalty. Kurt Morath replied soon after for Tonga before the France scrum-half edged Les Bleus back in front as the game entered its second quarter. In the 26th minute, Tonga winger Suka Hufanga produced a stunning finish to gather a Morath cross field kick, brushing off the attentions of Julien Bonnaire in the process, and dot down in the right corner. Morath added the touchline conversion and notched three further penalties to give his side a 19-9 lead with less than 10 minutes to go.
Les Bleus laid siege to the Tongan line, but were made to wait until time had elapsed before they breached the line through Vincent Clerc. It was too little too late to avoid defeat, but France recovered well to reach the RWC 2011 final, where they lost 8-7 to hosts New Zealand.
South Africa 32-34 Japan, Brighton Community Stadium, 19 September, 2015
Japan had not won a Rugby World Cup match for 24 years when they arrived in England for RWC 2015. The Brave Blossoms were not expected to end that run against Pool B seeds South Africa. But, not many observers were aware of the work head coach Eddie Jones and his players had put into preparing for this match.
The Springboks were soon brought up to speed, however. 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, and although Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss both crossed the whitewash in the first 22 minutes of the second period, Japan refused to be shaken off. Ayumu Goromaru’s trusty boot had kept his side in touch, and the full-back scored a try with 11 minutes to go to level the scores at 29-29, and set up a nervy finish for both teams.
Handré Pollard struck a 73rd-minute penalty to edge South Africa back in front, but Japan refused to settle for even a share of the points in Brighton. Captain Leitch twice elected to kick a penalty to the corner instead of at goal in the closing stages. His bravery was rewarded as Karne Hesketh squeezed over in the left corner to score the match-winning try.
Japan 28-21 Scotland, International Stadium Yokohama, 13 October, 2019
Four years after becoming the first team in tournament history to win three Rugby World Cup pool matches and not qualify for the quarter-finals, Japan had a chance to go one step further on home soil. Typhoon Hagibis had impacted the final weekend of pool matches, but the Brave Blossoms were determined to seal their progress to the last eight on the pitch.
Following a monumental effort from those involved, International Stadium Yokohama was able to host Japan’s pivotal final pool game. On an emotional night it was Scotland who struck first, as Finn Russell powered through the Japanese defence from close range. But, the Brave Blossoms regrouped and levelled the scores as Kotaro Matsushima finished following a brilliant break and offload from Kenki Fukuoka. Keita Inagaki then went over under the posts before Fukuoka scored his first try of the evening seconds before half-time.
The Japanese winger’s second arrived barely two minutes into the second period after he stripped Chris Harris of possession in midfield. Yu Tamura added his fourth conversion to make the score 28-7, and although Scotland scored two further tries through WP Nel and Zander Fagerson, they were unable to prevent Japan from securing a memorable win, and top-spot in Pool A.