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Rugby World Cup History

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

Rugby World Cup (RWC) is administered by Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL), a subsidiary of World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board (IRB). World Rugby is a non-profit making organisation. All revenue generated through its activity is placed back in the game of Rugby.

Rugby World Cup is the primary source of revenue for the funding of Rugby development worldwide. Ninety-five percent of all money distributed by World Rugby worldwide for development comes from RWC revenue. These funds underpin the World Rugby's strategic investments programme including High Performance funding and development grants.

The first RWC was held in New Zealand and Australia in 1987. The six tournaments to date are:

1987 1991 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011 2015 2019 IRB website


How it all began

The IRB held their annual board meeting on 20-21st March 1985 at the French Railways HQ in Paris. Each member nation had a single vote and the motion was carried 6 (Australia, England, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales) to 2 (Ireland and Scotland). It would be staged jointly by Australia and New Zealand from the 22nd May to the 20th June 1987. This gave the two host nations approx. two years to prepare. Read the full story

It may also interest you to know that Rugby League's World Cup was first held in 1954. Read more

World Cup Finals

Venue Participating
Result Captain Coach Referee
1987 Eden Park 16 New Zealand 29
France 9
David Kirk Brian Lochore Kerry Fitzgerald (Aust)
1991 Twickenham 31 Australia 12
England 6
Bob Dwyer Derek Bevan (Wales)
1995 Ellis Park 52 South Africa 15
New Zealand 12
Francois Pienaar Kitch Christie Ed Morrison (England)
1999 Millenium Stadium 69 Australia 35
France 12
John Eales Rod Macqueen Andre Watson (South Africa)
2003 Telstra Stadium 82 Australia 17
England 20
Martin Johnson Clive Woodward Andre Watson (South Africa)
2007 Stade de France 94 South Africa 15
England 6
John Smit Jake White Alain Rolland (Ireland)
2011 Eden Park   New Zealand 8
France 7
Richie McCaw Graham Henry Craig Joubert (RSA)

Growth of the Rugby World Cup

The IRB state that "Rugby World Cup (RWC) is now one of the the world's top three sporting competitions (the Olympics and the World Cup of Soccer being the other two)" (1).

Year Match
Television Audience

Total Hours

Gross Commercial
Net Surplus
1987 600,000 300 million 17 103 £3.3 million £1.0 million
1991 1 million 1.4 billion 103 1,100 £23.6 million £4.1 million
1995 1.1 million 2.38 billion 124 1,180 £30.3 million £17.6 million
1999 1.7 million 3.1 billion 209 2,425 £70 million £47 million
2003 1.9 million 3.4 billion 193 (No Eurosport) 5,414 £81.8 million £64.3 million
2007 2.25 million 4.2 billion 202 8,500   £122.4 million
2011 1.33 million 3.9 billion 207   Estimated £80 million net surplus boost to the Game. Loss of NZ $31.3 million, NZ $8 million lower than forecast

Rugby World Cup hosting can generate up to GBP £2.9 billion in total economic impact, while direct visitor expenditure into the host economy can reach GBP £1.1 billion according to independent analysis of previous event hosting designed to inform potential future hosts of rugby’s showcase event.

Analysis also confirms the value of hosting the women’s event as an impactful and cost-effective proposition to engage women, grow interest and participation in women’s sport and champion gender equality and societal diversity.

While the formal host selection process does not open until February 2021, strong initial hosting interest has been publicly expressed for the men’s editions in 2027 and 2031 and the women’s editions in 2025 and 2029. 

The reports, The benefits of hosting men’s Rugby World Cup and The benefits of hosting women’s Rugby World Cup produced by MI Associates, are being made available to any interested nations to help inform key strategic decisions to develop potential bids, targeting imperatives that will ensure a strong return on investment. 

For the first time, standardised assessment methodology has been used to provide a holistic comparison of previous tournaments and project the likely economic impact in potential host regions based on location and trends.

Therefore, the reports illustrate the true value of Rugby World Cup to potential host nations by identifying the broader holistic benefits, such as:

  • Total international visitation and resulting economic impact
  • Total global broadcast audiences and social media engagement delivering exposure of the host country and cities to key international markets, driving future tourism to the host markets
  • The impact on sport and rugby participation and the likely resulting health benefits
  • The likely local support from the community for a potential bid
  • Potential trade and diplomatic impacts
  • Volunteering and the impact of this on local communities

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said:

“Rugby World Cup hosting is all about partnership and value, and our mission is to ensure that our iconic men’s and women’s events are an attractive, impactful and beneficial proposition for prospective hosts, much more than a sporting tournament, through a unified, holistic and flexible approach to building hosting models.

“These reports articulate the true value of Rugby World Cup to potential host nations by identifying the broader holistic benefits ranging from the socio-economic benefits, including helping to get a nation active, generating significant global digital and broadcast  exposure, creating trade and diplomatic impacts, and, of course, tourism and additive spend by incoming visitors.

“The major findings of the reports reaffirm Rugby World Cup’s status as a low-investment, high return on investment proposition for hosts, delivering multiple social, sporting, reputational and economic benefits.”

The Famous Whistle

The first game of every world cup to date has been started by the same whistle. The whistle is nearly 100 years old and bears an inscription saying it was used by Gil Evans in the Test match between New Zealand and England in December 1905, a match the All Blacks won 15-0.

This piece of rugby history is also believed to have been used by Albert E. Freethy in the final of the 1924 Olympics in Paris when the United States beat hosts France 17-13 at the Colombes Stadium - the last time the sport of rugby union featured in the Games.

A year later Freethy blew the whistle to dismiss Cyril Brownlie in the Test between New Zealand and England at Twickenham in January 1925, making him the first player to be sent off in an international match.

The whistle has been housed in the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North since 16 April 1969 when they held their inaugural function, having been given by Stan Dean, who for many years was the chairman of the NZRFU and manager of the 1924/25 All Blacks.



1. Retrieved Sept 2011

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