1987 Rugby World Cup
The Rugby authorities, the IRFB, looked enviously towards their football counterparts and, 57 years after the birth of the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup was launched. Looking back, it seems a world away. It was (supposedly) an amateur game in 1987; substitutions were only allowed in the case of injuries; only 4 points were awarded for a try; and all sorts of different rules applied, including ‘no lifting in the lineout’.
What was going on in the world in 1987?
• Iran Contra Affair; President Ronald Reagan admits to arms for hostages deal
• The Simpsons starts as feature on the Tracey Ullman show
• 18 year old Mathias Rust lands a Cessna private plane in Red Square Moscow
• The last prisoner in Spandau prison, Rudolph Hess, commits suicide, aged 93
• 1st KFC in mainland China opens in Beijing
Births and Deaths
Football superstar Lionel Messi was born. The tennis world said hello to Andy Murray and 7 days later, to Novak Djokovic. The entertainment and art world waved goodbye to Liberace, Andy Warhol, Fred Astaire, and Lee Marvin.
World Cup format
The tournament was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand, as senior partner, hosted 20 matches, including the final at Eden Park, Auckland, to Australia’s 12. Australia hosted matches in Sydney and Brisbane; New Zealand uses 9 venues from Auckland to Invercargill.
There were 4 groups of 4 teams, with the top 2 in each group moving forward into the quarter-finals.
Of course everyone was a rookie in 1987! The 7 IRFB members were automatically included, namely New Zealand, Australia and the 5 nations from the Northern Hemisphere: England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Invitations were sent to 9 others countries: Argentina, Fiji, Tonga, Canada USA, Japan, Italy, Romania, and Zimbabwe.
South Africa was excluded due to apartheid sanctions. The USSR refused to come because of South Africa’s IRFB membership. Western Samoa was controversially left out despite playing to better standard than several participants. 1991 would see them arrive on the World Cup stage with a vengeance.
Tournament facts and records
New Zealand won at a canter, which is reflected in the individual records.
• Top points scorer: Grant Fox (New Zealand) – 126 points
• Most tries: Craig Green and John Kirwan (both New Zealand) – 6 tries
Who should have won but didn’t?
It is impossible to argue that anyone except New Zealand should have won. France put in a memorable performance to defeat favourites Australia in the semi-final in Sydney: a game described at the time as the greatest game of rugby ever played, It was the clearest indication that the Rugby World Cup had been a hit and would continue to grow and flourish in the future.
But, really, it was New Zealand all the way, and the final result, a 29-9 win over a French team which had peaked in the semi-final, was evidence of that. Scrum-half David Kirk captained New Zealand throughout the tournament after Andy Dalton was ruled out through injury; his place in the side at hooker was taken by a young Sean Fitzpatrick. The amateur nature of this World Cup was epitomised by New Zealand fullback, John Gallagher, one of the stars of the tournament, who was back on his policeman’s beat the morning after the World Cup final.
One of the main worries before the tournament started was of gross mismatches between the likes of New Zealand and some of the lesser nations, but this was less of a factor than feared. In fact there were some very close matches.
• France 20 Scotland 20 in the pool match, which left France winning the pool on tries scored, and thus avoiding a quarter-final against New Zealand
• Romania 21 Zimbabwe 20 in the same pool. Although Zimbabwe finished the pool with 3 defeats from 3, this result showed they were more competitive than was expected
• Wales 22 Australia 21 in the match for 3rd place
In pool 3, New Zealand’s pool, Fiji, Italy and Argentina each finished with 1 win and 2 defeats, with Fiji progressing to the quarter-finals on number of tries scored (Fiji 6, Italy 5, and Argentina 4). If the criterion had been points difference, Argentina would have gone through.
Thus the world was denied the presence of the great Hugo Porta in the knockout phase. He was 36, and the World Cup had come a decade too late to allow him to lay down a proper marker in the World Cup record books. There have been few players so respected as Hugo Porta in the rugby world. An incident in 2000 speaks volumes of his. His car was carjacked in Buenos Aires. When the thieves read in the newspaper whose car they had taken, it was immediately returned.
In the second semi-final in Sydney, with the scores level at Australia 24 France 24, extra time seemed inevitable. But France had one remaining trick up their sleeve, which manifested itself in arguably the greatest try in World Cup history. Starting deep within their territory, they ran the ball through the hands of 11 players – backs and forwards alike – before a mesmerising display ended with the ball in the hands of Serge Blanco. Blanco charged to the line, shaking off the grapples of Aussie forward Tom Lawton to score in the corner.
Being picky, the move looks to start with a forward pass from Blanco to Lagisquet, and final pass to Blanco comes after a possible fumble from Rodriguez, but given the timing and circumstances, this is undoubtedly one of the great tries. The pickup from loosehead prop, Pascal Ondarts in the middle of the move is out of this world. Remember, this is a prop in the amateur era!
Heroes and Villains
Hero: Serge Blanco
The inaugural World Cup needed a “wow” moment and it certainly got exactly that with the dramatic end to the France semi-final victory over Australia. That this moment was provided by an all-time great, Serge Blanco, was entirely fitting. He also played in the 1991 World Cup, but in 1987 he was 28 and absolutely in his prime. Born in Caracas to a Venezuelan father and a Basque mother, Blanco played his entire club career for Biarritz and made 93 appearances for France (81 at fullback), scoring 38 tries, a national record.
Villain: Wayne “Buck” Shelford
The first semi-final in Brisbane, saw a very one-sided match with New Zealand defeating Wales 49-6. Wales’ plight was not helped by a red card for lock Huw Richards, after he threw a couple of handbag punches at opposite number Gary Whetton. Rather than waiting for the referee to sort this out, New Zealand number 8, Buck Shelford, stepped in and, with a single punch to the jaw, knocked Richards out cold. When he came to, he was sent off. Shelford received no punishment for probably the best single punch in World Cup history.
Winners: New Zealand
3rd Place: Wales
4th Place: Australia
5th-8th: Scotland, Fiji, England, Ireland
Others: USA, Canada, Italy, Romania, Japan, Tonga, Argentina, Zimbabwe