1999 Rugby World Cup

This was the first World Cup of the professional era, and the official host was Wales. In fact the majority of matches were played outside Wales, shared across England, France, Ireland and Scotland. But Wales hosted the opening ceremony, opening match, and the final, and hence took the 4th and final automatic qualifying spot, along with the top 3 from 1995: South Africa, New Zealand and France. 63 other nations competed for the remaining 16 places.

Australia won the tournament, thereby becoming the first two-time winner and the first winner to have come through tournament qualification. They beat France in a one-sided final after France had produced the most stunning come from behind win to defeat New Zealand in the semi-final; a match that stands out in World Cup memory. Unfortunately for the neutrals, France were simply unable to raise their game to the same level in the final.

What was going on in the world in 1999?

  • President Bill Clinton is acquitted in impeachment proceedings in the United States Senate.
  • Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones become the first to circumnavigate the Earth in a hot air balloon.
  • Napster is launched
  • Wars in Eastern Europe: the Kosovo war and the 2nd Chechen war both kick off
  • Macau is handed back to China


The Euro was born in 1999.


Film waved fond farewells to Oliver Reed and Stanley Kubrick; Dusty Springfield sang her final note. Sport lost Sir Alf Ramsey, Joe DiMaggio and Wilt Chamberlain. Celebrities with political connections who checked out included John F Kennedy Jr, Raisa Gorbachev, and Screaming Lord Sutch.

World Cup format

It simply had to happen. Judging by the number of times that FIFA made a complete porridge of the Football World Cup format, it was inevitable that the IRB would at some stage massacre the Rugby World Cup structure.

The tournament was expanded to 20 nations, and the iRB decided to keep groups of 4 teams, and hence had 5 groups. I suppose the main justification for this would be that 5 nations were hosting the groups, but simple mathematics will tell you that it is awfully hard to construct a knockout stage from an odd number of groups. Hence we had the 5 group winners going through to the quarter finals and then 3 play-off matches featuring the 5 runners up and the “best third place” team.

To cut a long and dull story short, the play-offs outcomes were: England beat Fiji; Scotland beat Samoa; and Ireland managed to lose to the” best third place” team, Argentina. Sports administrators eh?


We had 3 rookies. Namibia joined South Africa in representing their continent, meaning that previous Africa participants Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast missed out. Uruguay came through the qualifying repechage, and Spain also made their bow. Of the 3, Uruguay made the best fist of it, beating Spain in group A. Spain indeed can be said to be the worst team in Rugby World Cup history, being the only nation without a single try to their overall historical World Cup record.

Fiji and the USA, who both failed to make it to South Africa in 1995, were welcomed back to the tournament. Argentina’s play-off win took them to a first ever quarter-final place.

Tournament facts and records

  • Top points scorer: Gonzalo Quesada (Argentina)- 102 points
  • Most tries: Jonah Lomu New Zealand – 8 tries
  • Lomu’s tally in 2 World Cups was 15 tries, which remains the highest overall
  • Jannie De Beer of South Africa scored an amazing 5 drop goals in the quarter-final win over England and a further 1 in the semi-loss to Australia

Who should have won but didn’t?

It really comes down to 3 teams: Australia, France and New Zealand. Had New Zealand played a normal 2nd half against France in the semi-final, they would have been favoured to win the final. Had France been able to recreate the magic from that game in the final, how different would the result have been?

And Australia had squeaked past South Africa, needing extra time to win the semi-final. That match aside, Australia’s progress was serene; tries were shared around and Matt Burke’s kicking was extremely reliable. On balance Australia deserved this win. It was their 2nd triumph in 3 World Cups; both wins being away in the Northern Hemisphere in Britain.

The side had some true greats over this era, and 5 players were part of both the 1991 and 1999 winning squads. John Eales and Tim Horan were in the starting lineup in both finals; Jason Little started in 1991 and came on in the final in 1999; Phil Kearns played in 1991 and was a squad member in 1999; and Dan Crowley came off the bench in 1991 and was a squad member in 1999. Eales and Horan would likely make the starting lineup of an all-time World Cup dream team across all countries.

Close matches

Despite some of the most one-sided matches ever seen in the World Cup, there were some close encounters

  • USA 25 Romania 27 in pool E
  • Italy 25 Tonga 28 in pool B
  • Argentina 28 Ireland 24 in the play-off
  • Australia 27 South Africa 21 in the semi-final; this one went to extra time before Matt Burke with 2 penalties and Stephen Larkham drop goal against a De Beer penalty saw Australia through to the final.


  • New Zealand 101 Italy 3 in pool B, 10 different try scorers with a hatrick for Jeff Wilson
  • England 101 Tonga 10 in pool B, 12 conversions for Paul Grayson

World Cup Upset

1999 saw the rematch of Wales and their nemesis from the South Pacific. In 1991 Wales lost to Western Samoa; this time they were playing the whole of Samoa in Cardiff and went down again, this time by 31-38. Samoan fly-half, Stephen Bachop put in a man of the match performance.

Memorable match

The semi-final between France and New Zealand was the ultimate “game of two halves”. New Zealand controlled the first half and led 17-10 at the break. When Mehrtens converted a Lomu try shortly after half time to lead 24-10, viewers could have been forgiven for reaching for off switch on their TV, assuming that there would only be one winner from that position.

But then 2 penalties and 2 drop goals in 8 minutes brought France to within 2 points and made it a nail-biting game. More was to come, as France ran in 3 unanswered converted tries to lead 43-24, before a late consolation try to New Zealand made the final score 43-31.

In 28 madcap minutes France has put on 33 unanswered points, a feat surely never achieved before against any New Zealand side. Here are the highlights; you might want to peep through your fingers from behind the sofa if you are a New Zealander.


Heroes and Villains

Hero: Christophe Lamaison

That incredible semi-final win was achieved by great performances throughout the French team. The sight of Dominici scampering down the left wing to score, or Bernat-Salles down right, are memorable moments. But if one man was the architect of this result, it was surely Christophe Lamaison.

Playing at fly-half, he had scored all France’s points in the first half: a penalty, a try and a conversion. In the 47th minute he completed the full set with his first of two drop goals, and with two further penalties, had personally reduced New Zealand’s lead to 2 points by the 55th minute. He was involved in most of the backline moves, instigated them indeed, and as well as having a hand in the tries, he converted all 3 that followed.


Villain: Shane Howarth

The start of the professional era saw a spate of players discovering they had dual nationality. There were players who failed to carve out a significant international career in the Southern Hemisphere powerhouse teams, either qualifying for other countries through some kind of residency or via a homeland born grandparent. In many some cases we had the unedifying spectacle of players how has previously represented one country in a previous World Cup turning up under a different flag (of convenience).

The first World Cup dual national, as mentioned in the 1995 story, was Frank Bunce, who  had been so fabulous for Western Samoa in 1991 that New Zealand’s talent starved squad(!) just had to snap him up for 1995.

The list in 1999 is considerably longer, and this account may not be complete. We had Patricio Noriega, formerly of Argentina, playing Australia; Ilivasi Tabua, switching from Australia to Fiji; Jamie Joseph and Graeme Bachop, formerly All Blacks, representing Japan in some kind of semi-retirement; and Va’aiga Tuigamala leaving New Zealand to go back to his Samoan roots.

In 1991 Sean Lineen had become the first of the Kilted Kiwis, New Zealanders playing for Scotland. In fairness, Lineen was a dedicated and inspirational Scot, and was awarded the freedom of the city of Edinburgh, but his switch started an unedifying trend. By 1999 the list of Kilted Kiwis ran to 9 names, also including Brendan Laney, Martin Leslie, John Leslie, Glenn Metcalfe, Gordon Simpson, Cameron Mather, Shaun Longstaff, and Sean Maitland.

But the biggest indictment of this phenomenon was the case of Shane Howarth, a New Zealander who had 4 caps for the All Blacks from 1994. He represented Wales in the 1999 World Cup through a Welsh grandfather. In 2000 it was discovered that his grandfather was not born in Wales but New Zealand, and he was, and always had been, ineligible to play for Wales. The scandal that followed was termed "grannygate" and Howarth was banned from representing Wales. The IRB subsequently changed the rules so that players could only represent one country.

Quick facts

  • Winners: Australia
  • Runners-up: France
  • 3rd Place: South Africa
  • 4th Place: New Zealand
  • 5th-8th: Wales, Argentina, England, Scotland
  • Play-offs: Ireland, Fiji, Samoa
  • Others: Uruguay, Tonga, Canada, Romania, Japan, Spain, Italy, Namibia, Japan, USA

Verdict: good, bad or ugly?

With the glorious exception of France’s heroic performance to beat New Zealand in the semi-final, this was a pretty ugly tournament. The format was flawed; the flood of dual nationality players was a stain on the game; there were few meaningful close games; and a disappointingly one-sided final.