Friday, September 11, 2015

The Rugby World Cup: 1991

After the success of the first World Cup, all roads led north with the Five Nations teams jointly hosting the event and England hosting the final at Twickenham.

Again, South Africa would miss out due to the sports boycott in response to apartheid in the country. However, this time the invitation process would be replaced by a qualification. The eight quarter finalists from the 1987 competition qualified automatically, but 25 teams had to fight it out for the remaining eight places.

Despite, the new qualification process there would be only one change from the teams that competed four years previously, as Western Samoa – who were controversially ignored in 1987 – qualified in place of Tonga. Once again Zimbabwe were the only African nation to appear.
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Two Sides of the Pacific Islands
Western Samoa came into the World Cup with a point to prove after their snub four years previous, but they would have their work cut out. Their pool contained two semi finalists from the previous tournament – Wales and Australia – with all the games being played in Wales. 

Their task seemed a huge one when turned up at the National Stadium on the 6th October 1991, but the big tackling Samoans cared not for reputation nor expectations. 

Whilst at the time many had never heard of some of the boys in blue that day, many would go on to become some of the biggest names in rugby. Apollo Perelini, Brian Lima, Pat Lam, Stephen Bashop and, the mercurial, Frank Brunce all took to the field on a day they would never forget. 

The 16-13 Samoan victory effectively ended Wales’ World Cup before it began, as they dropped from the third placed nation in 1987 to third in their pool. Samoa would lose to Scotland in the quarter finals.

Meanwhile, Fiji had been the surprise package at the first World Cup and earned themselves automatic qualification. Things unravelled quickly for them, however. An opening defeat against Canada left them with a mountain to climb and a heavy defeat to France quickly followed. They would reach their low with a 17-15 defeat to Romania in Brive to head home early and winless.
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Gold and Green
Having lost to Wales in a third place playoff in ’87, Australia were in no mood to watch the Welsh repeat the score in the pool. The Wallabies ran in six tries in a in a 38-3 demolition of Wales in front of a packed National Stadium in Cardiff and set themselves up for a quarter final against Ireland in Dublin; the game would prove to be the best in the tournament and fine example of the spirit of the game. 

Before kick off nobody gave Ireland a chance. Many thought the Irish could put up a fight, but few thought they could win. However, with 5 minutes remaining Irish flanker Gordon Hamilton some how managed to outstrip Aussie flyer David Campese to cross for a try and – with the conversion that followed – give the Irish a three point lead. Lansdowne Road erupted into raptures, but they wouldn't be able to celebrate for long.

Almost instantly Australia were awarded a penalty, but Michael Lynagh was in no mood for extra time and shunned the three points in favour of a final assault on Ireland's line. A quick tap put the Wallabies on the front foot and inspired centres Jason Little and Tim Horan advanced Australia forward. The ball found it's way to Campese - the Australian already had five tries to his name in the tournament and was on a hat trick- but a last ditched Irish defence prevented a sixth. However, they couldn't stop Lynagh crossing to keep the Australian dream alive and break Irish hearts.
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Aussies Dream
After success against Ireland, Australia again found themselves on the brink of a final. This time, their biggest rivals would stand in their way. The All Blacks were favourites, but far from the invincible team they looked in '87. 

They had already lost to the Wallabies in Sydney earlier in the year before toiling to a 6-3 win in Auckland. John Hart had been brought in to work alongside Grizz Wyllie, with mixed results. The All Blacks started well with a win against the English hosts but laboured to victories against Italy and Canada. 

The All Blacks were four years old than when they lifted the Webb Ellis trophy and, for the most part, the looked it. Some legs looked tired and cohesion was missed. Though still a formidable team, this wasn’t the unstoppable machine we knew.

Australia meanwhile, were on the up. Playing an exciting, attacking brand of rugby - with Lynagh, Campese, Horan and Little at it’s heart – the Wallabies were winning fans outside of Australia. With the semi final taking place in Dublin, the Australians suddenly found themselves backed by the home crowd out of admiration of their performance at Lansdowne Road the round before.

The Wallabies eased into the final as their back division took charge. Their part in the 16-6 victory was highlighted by fantastic tries by Campese and Lynagh, while the All Blacks could only muster two penalties from the boot of Grant Fox.

England awaited in the final and though the game never really got going, Australia proved too strong. England - and the rest of the Nothern Hemisphere - would have to wait 12 years to extract revenge. The Wallabies had matched the achievements of the All Blacks and taken the World Cup back to the Southern Hemisphere with relative ease, but soon the Bledsoe teams would have a third southern hemisphere nation desperate for World Cup gold.
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