Rugby World Cup: Greatest Upsets Of All Time

Japan & Georgia both pulled off monumental upsets yesterday in their respective pool games. Let’s take a look back at some of the greatest world cup upsets of all time.

Japan 2

South Africa 32 Japan 34: 2015 Group Stage
It should have been a colossal mismatch: Japan who have won only one match in the finals, over Zimbabwe in Belfast in 1991, against double champions and aristocrats of the game, South Africa. And yet from the start Japan kept trading blows with their taller, far heavier opponents. But no one counted on Japan’s guts, ambition and patience.

They worked their way diligently up the field in an 18-phase move in the final moments, won a penalty that would have allowed them to equalise and leave with an honourable draw. Twice they turned down the opportunity and with 35 seconds to go opted for, of all things, not a line-out but a 5m scrum which they eventually won after a couple of resets.

South Africa overcommitted in defence and Leitch saw his chance, beginning a rapid chain of passes that ended with the replacement Karne Hesketh storming in from 15m on the opposite flank. History was made.

Australia 21 Wales 22: 1987 Third Place Play-Off

Australia had already suffered an upset in their semi-final defeat to France – widely regarded as the game of the tournament. What followed though was possibly an even greater shock. How much the pre-tournament favourites were motivated for a bronze-medal match is debatable but they certainly should have beaten a Wales side who shipped 49 points in their own semi against New Zealand. The game was incredibly tight throughout, each side touching down twice before Adrian Hadley’s last-gasp try and Paul Thorburn’s remarkable conversion from a tight angle settled it.
Western Samoa 16 Wales 13: 1991 Group Stage

“Thank heavens Wales weren’t playing the whole of Samoa,” went the famous quip following arguably the greatest shock in World Cup history. Wales’s Cardiff Arms Park defeat to Western Samoa was the first time a leading rugby nation had come unstuck in the tournament against a rank outsider. It sent shock waves through the principality as 1987’s third-placed team ultimately failed to get out of their group. In fairness, Samoa possessed arguably their most talented ever line-up and simply outmuscled their smaller opponents. Both sides scored two tries but it was the more reliable kicking of Mathew Vaea that proved decisive.

Ireland 15 Australia 6: 2011 Group Stage

Ireland defied all expectations by summoning a performance of controlled ferocity to stun Australia last month and place one foot in the World Cup quarter-finals.

The Irish stormed to the summit of Pool C by winning the group’s pivotal match against the Tri-Nations champions and tournament second favourites at Eden Park. Jonathan Sexton kicked two penalties and a drop goal while Ronan O’Gara weighed in with six points in Ireland’s finest World Cup display.


France 12 Argentina 17: 2007 Group Stage

A full 17 years after defending champions Argentina had lost the opening match of the soccer World Cup in a shock defeat by Cameroon, the rugby side pulled off a similar trick against hosts France. Les Bleus, under huge pressure as the top-rated team in the northern hemisphere, seemed to freeze in the spotlight as Argentina’s formidable forwards steamrollered through the French lines. Ignacio Corleto scored the game’s only try as 80,000 French fans were stunned into silence.

Ireland 24 Argentina 28: 1999 Quarter Final Play-Offs

Ireland were just beginning to re-establish themselves as a top-quality international side when their world came crashing down against unfancied Argentina in the 1999 tournament. What was not known then is that the Argentinians were on their own journey to rugby’s top table. The match itself was dominated by the boot, with David Humphreys trading penalties with fellow fly-half Gonzalo Quesada, the tournament’s top scorer. The contest was ultimately settled by winger Diego Albanese, who powered into the corner six minutes from time.

Wales 34 Fiji 38: 2007 Group Stage

Wales were sent crashing out of the World Cup by Fiji in an extraordinary encounter at the Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes. Fiji had stormed into a 25-3 lead with three tries in the space of 12 first-half minutes, from Gloucester’s Akapusi Qera, winger Vilimoni Delasau and lock Kele Leawere.

After Alix Popham touched down for a pushover try shortly before the interval, Wales produced a spirited comeback to edge ahead with further scores from Shane Williams, Gareth Thomas and Mark Jones. Wales appeared to have the match won when Martyn Williams picked off a pass from Nicky Little and raced clear to score. But Fiji refused to be beaten and a try from Semisi Naevo four minutes from time sealed the islanders a quarter-final tie against South Africa – and cost Wales coach Gareth Jenkins his job the following day.

Wales 31 Samoa 38: 1999 Group Stage

The commentator who speculated on what the outcome would be were Wales to play the whole of Samoa only had to wait until their next World Cup meeting to find out. Proving lightning really can strike twice, the islanders repeated their shock victory from eight years earlier, becoming the first visiting team to win at Wales’ shining new Millennium Stadium.
However, unlike the 1991 game, the match was a feast of running rugby, the visitors clinical in the extreme in scoring five tries. The match is also memorable for Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins overtaking Michael Lynagh as Test rugby’s highest ever points scorer.

South Africa 15 New Zealand 12: 1995 Final

Notwithstanding their subsequent collapses to France and Australia in the following two World Cups, it is this result that first obliterated New Zealand’s aura of invincibility. The All Blacks have been favourites for every World Cup since 1991 but never more so than when a Jonah Lomu-inspired XV blazed a trail all the way to the 1995 final against hosts South Africa.

The 18st wing had demolished England with a four-try blitz in the semi-final and was believed to be almost unplayable. But South Africa had other ideas and, inspired by a 62,000 partisan home crowd, completely shut down the All Blacks machine to win courtesy of a Joel Stransky drop goal in extra time.

Source: Telegraph Sport

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