Upsets are one of the many ingredients that turn a good sporting event into a great one. Rugby is no exception, and since the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, the game’s showcase competition is littered with examples of teams tearing up the form book and going against the odds to record memorable victories against supposedly superior opposition.
From Wales’ last gasp 22-21 victory over co-hosts Australia at RWC 1987 to Tonga’s shock 19-14 win over the eventual finalists France four years ago in New Zealand, every Rugby World Cup has thrown up surprise results and this year’s tournament is set to be no exception.
We turn the clock back eight years to Rugby World Cup 2007 in France, and two matches which sent shockwaves around the rugby world.
France 12–17 Argentina
One man who will never forget Argentina’s opening match of the tournament, against hosts and reigning Six Nations champions France, is Bath flyer Horacio Agulla.
“It was my first Rugby World Cup and I was the only amateur player in the starting line-up, so it was a big deal for me,” he said. “I was a young kid and had a lot of questions in my head, but after the first tackle and the first carry I started to pick up confidence. It was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever had. The stadium was completely full and there were a lot of Argentine supporters there. My family were there too. It was a very emotional game.
“We started very hard and we knew that would be the key. I made a good interception which finished in a try and that opened up a gap in the score line. Straight after that we defended the in-goal line for five or six minutes and scored from there, and that’s when I knew we were going to win that game. After the match it was crazy, a lot of emotions going on. Our captain Agustin Pichot calmed us down and said look guys this is just the start, there’s a long way to go. We wanted much more than to win just that match.”
Argentina did just that, making it all the way to the Bronze Final where they dealt France a second consecutive defeat to secure an unprecedented third place finish.
Fiji 38-34 Wales
Fast forward to the culmination of the pool stages and a decisive head-to-head clash in Nantes to decide whether Wales or Fiji would progress to the quarter-finals. Tom Shanklin, who played outside centre that day, remembers the occasion vivdly, but - from a Welsh perspective - for all the wrong reasons.
“If we’re honest we took Fiji fairly lightly. We had to beat them to get through to a quarter-final. It was a great game and I’ve watched the replays. It was one of the games of the tournament. We had plenty of chances but we seemed to catch Fiji when they were on fire. They’ve got pace and power and we just couldn’t match them with that on the day. It went right to the wire. It wasn’t a great time for Welsh rugby.”
On the other side, Fiji’s talismanic fly-half Nicky Little – who racked up 18 points on the day – has fond memories of the generous support afforded to the Pacific Islanders after the match.
“I was really honoured and it really touched me the way the Welsh all went and bought white and black tops and cheered us on against the eventual world champions South Africa. I’ll never forget that and I’ll always be indebted to the Welsh public and to all those fans who travelled over there and changed allegiance to support us.”
Listen to the full interview with Horacio Agulla, Tom Shanklin and Nicky Little below.