The Rugby World Cup has occasionally presented us with a surprise result.
Surprise results are not generally associated with the Rugby World Cup. Usually the tournament runs like clockwork, as the top seeded teams make their way to the latter stages. Indeed only five teams have ever reached the final, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and France. However on occasion, the stars align and the underdogs rip up the form book.
Wales V Western Samoa 1991
Playing in their first World Cup, Western Samoa took on Wales in their opening pool 3 fixture. Having finished third in the previous tournament, Wales were fancied to qualify from a group that also contained Australia and Argentina.
However with a side that included the likes of Apollo Perelini, Frank Bunce, Brian Lima, Stephen Bachop and Pat Lam, the Samoans established their reputation as being one of the sports most physical teams. Aided by a controversial To’o Vaega try, Western Samoa won 16-13, effectively knocking the Welsh out of the World Cup. After the game many dark humoured Welsh fans quipped, ‘Thank heavens Wales weren’t playing the whole of Samoa’.
Wales V Samoa 1999
In 1999 Wales did in fact find themselves playing all of Samoa, after the Pacific Island Nation dropped the prefix Western, following a constitutional change in 1997.
Wales came into the game looking to top Pool D, having beaten Argentina and Japan. However Samoa took the game to the Welsh, and after Lio Falaniko scored from a poor Welsh throw into the line out, the upset was on. Samoan physicality and poor Welsh defence allowed Stephen Bachop score two further first half tries, as the islanders led at half time.
Nonetheless with fifteen minutes to play, the score stood at 31 points apiece. Although Samoa had to fight off a late Welsh effort during four minutes of injury time, Filiga Falaniko’s try in the 67th minute proved to be the decisive score.
Ireland V Argentina 1999
The decision to expand the World Cup to include 20 teams for the 1999 tournament, led to the introduction of quarter final play-offs. In retrospect placing the sides into five pools of four teams instead of four pools of five, seems silly.
The result was that each pool winner qualified for the last eight, while the five runners up, along with the best placed third placed side played off for the remaining quarter final slots. This unnecessary complication also meant that the the play-off round, took place only four days before of the the quarter final stage.
Nevertheless the play-off’s provided us with another upset. Ireland had beaten the Pumas in a warm up game in August and were confident of qualifying for a quarter final tie with France in Dublin. However despite trailing 15-9 at the break, Argentina took the game to the Irish scoring the only try of the game through Diego Albanese.
Ireland threw everything they had at the Pumas in the closing minutes, including a fifteen man line out, but to no avail as a late Gonzalo Quesada penalty sealed the game for the Pumas, 28-24.
France V New Zealand 1999
The All Blacks came into this game as un-backable favourites. Their attacking brand of rugby saw them defeat England 30-16 in the pool stage and put 101 points on Italy.
France by contrast were seemingly out of sorts, having finished last in the Five Nations Championship and were unimpressive throughout the World Cup. However this being the mercurial French, they turned it on in the 1999 semi final.
After Jonah Lomu scored an iconic try in the 24th minute, things looked ominous for the French. Indeed following the big wingers second try of the game early in the second half, the All Blacks led 24-10 after 46 minutes.
However Christophe Lamaison began the French fight back with two drop goals. After Lamaison struck two further penalties, the game was back on, and when Christophe Dominici scored from Fabien Galthie’s bouncing box kick, they took the lead.
France crossed the line again after Lamaison chipped over the defence allowing Richard Dourth score under the posts. Phillipe Bernat-Salles then put the French out of New Zealand’s reach, after taking advantage of a dropped All Black pass. Although Jeff Wilson scored in the last minute, France ran out surprising 43-31 winners.
France V Tonga 2011 World Cup
France became the first side in the history of the Rugby World Cup to lose two pool games and qualify for the quarter finals after they lost to Tonga in 2011.
The French had beaten Canada and Japan in their opening pool games, but lost 37-17 to New Zealand in their third fixture. However despite that defeat, France were assured qualification as Tonga had surprisingly lost to Canada earlier in the tournament.
Tonga led from the off and took a deserved 13-9 lead into half time, after a try from Sukanaivalu Hufanga. The Tongan’s added two more penalties in the second half before Vincent Clerc scored a last minute try for France. Although the final scoreline of 19-14, gives the impression of a tight game, in reality Tonga should have won by a greater margin, given their dominance.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the game, was the fact that 13 of the 15 French players who started that day also played in the final against New Zealand.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena