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Read all about it! The 7 greatest upsets in the history of the Rugby World Cup

01 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Read all about it! The 7 greatest upsets in the history of the Rugby World Cup

Every World Cup is remembered for its underdog stories as much as for its tales of triumph - but how do the most miraculous ever seen rank?

The host nation has never failed to make it out of their pool at the Rugby World Cup.

Yet if England are to avoid the ignominy of being the first country to leave their own party early, they could well require a favour or two from their Pool A competitors. 

Following their against-all-odds win at Twickenham last weekend, an injury-depleted Wales welcome Fiji to the Millennium Stadium on Thursday hoping not to be involved in a shock story of their own. 

Such a result would certainly not be unheard of, with the Welsh on the receiving end of plenty of surprise results in their time – the most recent of which came against Fiji just eight years ago.

It is often argued that professionalism has made upsets an increasingly rare occurrence, but some of the most famous in the history of the tournament have all taken place in the modern era.

But which are the greatest upsets ever in the history of the Rugby World Cup? Here’s our top seven…

7. France 12 – 17 Argentina (2007)fra-argEngland’s defeat to reigning world champions New Zealand in 1991 aside, the host nation had always won the opening game of the Rugby World Cup.

That was until 2007, when France suffered a severe case of stage fright to be outshone by Argentina in front of the watching world.

Taking part in their third consecutive curtain raiser – having already run Wales and Australia close – this time the Pumas finally shed their tag as plucky underdogs to stun Les Bleus. 

The decisive moment came shortly before the half-hour mark when the Contepomi brothers combined to intercept a Remy Martin pass and feed the onrushing Ignacio Corleto who streaked past the defence to touch down.

It signalled the start of a wonderful tournament for Argentina, who quickly proved that the result was no fluke by thumping the French by an even more convincing scoreline in the third place play-off six weeks later.

6. Wales 13 – 16 Western Samoa (1991)wal-samWhen the IRB first sent out the invitations to the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup, they controversially omitted Western Samoa the guest list.

The full extent of their folly only became clear four years later after the Pacific Islanders had qualified for the 1991 edition.

Taking on Wales at Cardiff Arms in their World Cup debut, Western Samoa soon pulled off the biggest upset in the tournament’s short history by beating the 1987 bronze medallists 16-13.

To’o Vaega set the wheels in motions after controversially being judged to have reached a chip and chase ahead of Robert Jones, before Sila Vaifale finished off a flowing move that, in true Polynesian style, included both forwards and backs.

Remarkably, the Samoans would go on to qualify for the quarter-finals at the first time of asking and ensure that from now on everybody would remember their name.

5. France 14 – 19 Tonga (2011)fra-tonIn terms of result alone, Tonga’s triumph over France in 2011 was, at the time, arguably the greatest upset that the World Cup had ever seen.

The game itself was swung by a moment of class, as Kurt Morath delivered a perfectly flighted cross-field kick for winger Suka Hufanga to collect on the bounce before bulldozing past Julien Bonnaire to score.

However, needing a winning bonus point to progress having already been undone by an underdog story of their own in suffering a surprise defeat to Canada, the game would still prove to be the end of the road for Tonga.

Nevertheless, in beating a team who would go on to lose by one point in the final, the efforts of a side ranked 12th in the world heading into the tournament had still managed to secure a place in World Cup folklore.

4. Wales 34 – 38 Fiji (2007)wal-fijiWhen it comes to famous upsets, Wales and Fiji have previous.

It was in their final pool game of 2007 that the two countries contested one of the most entertaining games that the Rugby World Cup has ever seen, in a straight shoot-out for the second quarter-final berth behind Australia.

In the end, Wales were undone by their opponents’ fearless style and never-say-die spirit – with Fiji remaining the only side in World Cup history to concede five tries and still go on to win the game.

Ironically, in a game that will always be remembered for running rugby and iconic tries (see our Greatest Pool Stage Moments), it was a prop that proved the difference.

With just three minutes left on the clock Graham Dewes picked and drove over the try line to give the Fijians a famous win and first appearance in the last eight since 1987.

3. Ireland 24 – 28 Argentina (1999)ire-argWith a revised tournament format in 1999, it was Argentina who made up the numbers for a series of quarter-final play-offs as the best third-placed team.

Prior to the tournament, the Pumas had never made the quarter finals whereas Ireland – their opponents in the winner-takes-all clash – had never failed to make the last eight.

True to form, Argentina found themselves 21-9 midway through the second half of a game of attrition thanks to the boot of David Humphreys.

However, with five minutes to go a wonderful set-piece move put winger Diego Albanese over in the corner for the game’s only try, with the conversion giving Argentina the lead for the first time.

The Pumas held firm during a period of unrelenting pressure on their own line before the final whistle sounded to signal a breakthrough moment for the South Americans and confirm them as a force to be reckoned with in the future.

2. New Zealand 31 – 43 France (1999)nzl-fraFrance were given little to no chance of beating the fearsome All Blacks ahead of their 1999 semi-final, and even less so after a brutal brace from Jonah Lomu had given the tournament favourites a 24-10 lead.

However, two drop goals and two penalties early in the second half had helped to turn the tide before Les Bleus took the lead in dramatic fashion with Christophe Dominici plucking a bouncing box kick out of the air to race under the posts.

A chip over the defence to Richard Dourthe and a Philippe Bernat-Salles breakaway then helped France to rack up 33 unanswered points to pull off a famous comeback in the greatest game that the World Cup has ever seen.

Given their astounding achievement in reaching the final it is perhaps not surprising that Australia went on to lift the trophy, but it is that semi-final for which the tournament will always be remembered.

1. South Africa 32 – 34 Japan (2015)rsa-japIt was Japan who brought the 2015 World Cup to life by producing the biggest shock in rugby history to defeat two-time champions South Africa who were ranked ten places above them heading into the competition.

With just seconds left on the clock, the Cherry Blossoms turned down the option to kick a late penalty to draw the game – instead choosing to take the scrum in pursuit of just their second World Cup win in 25 attempts.

After securing possession, the Japanese spun the ball wide for substitute Karne Hesketh to slide over in the corner in the 84th minute and leave the watching world speechless.

In doing so, Japan became just the second team to beat South Africa in a pool stage match after England in 2003 and only the fourth team to ever defeat the Springboks at a World Cup.

Sporting upsets do not come much bigger than that.  

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