This is the first in a weekly series of my own memories of the Rugby World Cup, starting next month and ending at Halloween. Rugby is not my sport, by any means, but it is a great tournament (even though I think it goes on too long), and one which has already provided many great moments.
What a different game it was too. It was entirely amateur, with just four points for a try. Dropped goals were allowed direct from free-kicks (the first points in the Final came that way) and scrummages; place kicks (which included most kick-offs) were taken without tees. At half-time players remained on the field, there were no substitutions or cards, and (very much unlike football) players on the field barely celebrated scores at all.
TV coverage was also more limited, with no ref mics or such like to indicate why penalties had been awarded or how the game was being managed.
Things have certainly changed!
We may not have known from the first tournament, a straightforward win for New Zealand, the game’s dominant force, just what a fine competition this would become.
In 1987 there were only seven test-playing nations at cricket, and with South Africa similarly excluded, there were only seven senior rugby nations too – the “Five Nations” plus the two Bledisloe Cup rivals, Australia and New Zealand, who hosted the first tournament. Fiji was the extra country to reach the last eight – this was before the rise of Argentina and Italy.
As it was, New Zealand and Australia eliminated Scotland and Ireland respectively and Fiji fell to France. The only all-Northern match in the knock-out phase saw Wales comfortably defeat England.
For Europeans, in an era before multi-channel broadcasting and the tradition of staying up late for games, the tournament was really noted for a remarkable semi-final match between Australia and France. With New Zealand awaiting in the Final, a Wallaby victory was assumed and sure enough, the home side led for the most of the match. However, France ran in four tries to win 30-24 – an important win not just for France, but for Northern Hemisphere rugby.
The Final was a step too far, with the All Blacks dismissing France 29-9. But those two teams would have many a close-run thing in future…