History of the Rugby World Cup: 1991

The first Northern Hemisphere World Cup merely confirmed Southern dominance as the era of amateurism and the four-point try approached its end. Yet it was not New Zealand but Australia, with stars Michael Lynagh and David Campese, who returned home with the gold.

The opening game hinted at ongoing Australasian dominance as New Zealand edged Grand Slam winner England 18-12 in London. Wales was humiliated, crashing to Western Samoa and exiting right at the start. Scotland, the previous year’s grand slam champions, was left to eliminate the South Sea islanders in the quarter final.

With New Zealand cruising past Canada, we seemed all set for one Northern semi and one Southern. Enter Gordon Hamilton, striding into the left-hand corner to put Ireland, incredibly, 18-15 up against the mighty Wallabies with just a few minutes remaining. Enter then Michael Lynagh, cool and calm under pressure, unwilling even to think of the drop to force extra-time, to lead his team through with a last-gasp try of its own.

Meanwhile in Paris England also rolled over the line for a late try to eliminate France 19-10. The scene was set for a repeat, eighteen months on, from the epic Grand Slam decider during the Poll Tax protests. In a game of much courage but little creativity, Scotland led 6-0, was pegged back to 6-6, and then ever reliable stalwart Gavin Hastings was left to slot a penalty midway through the second half from no distance, level with the right-hand post. Only the kick never came inside the post, England escaped to the other end, and Rob Andrew curled over the winning drop for vengeance and a place in the final.

The final was no better, with Australia always leading though somewhat fortuitous at times. A single, early converted try was the difference and the gold shirts lifted the gold trophy 12-6. Much would change before it was competed for again, not least the entry of a traditional rugby playing nation hitherto barred…

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