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How the RWC started

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Two companies in the early 80s approached the IRFB. West Nally, a British company and IMG a trans-continental company with its base in the USA. Both proposals were rejected.

In 1983 Gideon Lloyd International and Neil Durden-Smith who were both involved in sports promotion and public relations in London also made a proposal but once again the idea was turned down.

At that time the Rugby Unions were fighting a losing battle against professionalism and a RWC was seen as a step in the wrong direction.

Late 1983 the Australian Rugby Union and New Zealand Rugby Football Union submitted written proposals to the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB). Neither was aware of the other's proposal with Australia wanting to stage a tournament to coincide with their Bicentenary in 1988 and New Zealand proposing the previous year. Both proposals were turned down but Australian, Sir Nicholas Shehadie talked to Seb Blaze in New Zealand and suggested they pool resources so that’s what they did, they worked together on a feasibility study for the first world cup, to be presented at the IRFB's annual meeting in March 1985.

Australia had originally wished the tournament to coincide with their Bicentenary in 1988, but the two Unions settled on 1987 as the year, thereby avoiding any clash with the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, and a vote was held on the proposal at the IRFB meeting in the French capital Paris.

The vote between the eight IRFB members - Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales - came down in favour of a Rugby World Cup by six votes to two. For the world cup were Australia, England, France, New Zealand, Wales (after being persuaded by their treasurer) and South Africa even though they knew they would not be allowed to play in the tournament due to their political situation (apartheid regime). Ireland and Scotland were against the proposal as it appeared to threaten the amateur status of the sport, while France were in favour only if countries from outside the IRFB were invited to take part.

The decision was a massive one. It ensured that a tournament - there were no plans for a second at that stage - would be run by the world body and not businessmen and television companies interested in simply making money.

This green light left little more than two years to lay the foundations of a tournament, which finally provided the vehicle to establish a 'world champion' and would be held in New Zealand with Australia as co-hosts.

Argentina were invited to take South Africa's place with other invitations extended to Fiji, Tonga, Japan, Canada, Romania, Zimbabwe, Italy and the United States for the 16-team tournament to be held in May and June 1987.

The 16 teams were split into four pools of four, three of which were based in New Zealand with the other, featuring Australia, hosted in Sydney and Brisbane. The top two nations in each pool would progress to the quarter finals.

The All Blacks were expected to win the tournament and had the chance to prove they were the dominant force in world rugby. Before the tournament started the All blacks were told by Brian Lahore their coach that they were playing for 100 years of New Zealand rugby playing tradition, because they had been world champions without the cup to prove it. – Better not lose.

The inaugural match between New Zealand and Italy took place on 22 May at Eden Park in Auckland. Before the game the all blacks performed the ha ka for the first time on home soil and  in the opening game against Italy John Kirwan of New Zealand scored one of the best tries ever scored in the RWC. The hosts won the game easily 70-6 and one which went a long way to uniting a country divided by the Cavaliers' tour of South Africa in April 1986.

New Zealand won through to the semi finals against Wales after brushing Scotland aside, Wales went the same way and New Zealand were in the first World cup final.

The other semi-final was Aus vs. France and this proved to be a very exciting game since France just kept attacking and attacking. But Australia kept coming back. France pulled off the win in the final minutes with a Serge Blanco try.

The All blacks then won the final 29-9 at Eden Park and although France were well beaten they consoled themselves with the knowledge that it was a story book finish for New Zealand who’s status in world rugby had finally been realized.

That inaugural tournament saw 600,000 people pass through the turnstiles with 300 million in 17 countries watching the action on television, figures that would increase to 1.75 million and three billion in 140 countries respectively for the 1999 event.

The Rugby World Cup is now established as the third biggest sporting event behind the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, having achieved its goal of merging the traditional powers with new and emerging nations to make Rugby a truly global sport.

One person who played a key role in this journey was the late Vernon Pugh QC, the International Rugby Board and Rugby World Cup Ltd Chairman. Pugh's energy and vision was instrumental in expanding of the governing body to include 94 full members and in building the profile of the sport's showpiece event.

Note: Some text on this page Courtesy of the IRB.

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