2007 was the most bizarre World Cup, won by South Africa without having to play a single top-notch team after the defending champions emerged from nowhere to reach the final.
The story of the tournament wore white. The English were reigning Cup holders but came in as no hopers. That status was confirmed by a savage 36-0 beating at the hands of South Africa in the group phase, meaning no one would have been more surprised than the Springboks to be confronted by the very same team in the final in Paris.
As is now typical, the quarter finals made the tournament, even though the eventual winner cantered through them (South Africa ended up facing Fiji). Argentina had set the tournament alight with an opening game win over France, earning an easier quarter final against Ireland which the Pumas won easily. However, the Northern Hemisphere still managed to enjoy its best ever day in the tournament – Australia sought to avenge its final defeat against England (the way England had in reverse in 1995) and scored the game’s sole try, only mysteriously to crash upon the rocks of a determined defence 12-10; as if that was not stunning enough, New Zealand then succumbed again to bogey team France in an epic decided by the razor thin margin of one conversion, by 20-18.
As a result, it was left to the Springboks to dismiss the Pumas and reach the final without playing either a Six Nations or Tri-Nations team in the knock-out phase. The other semi was a grubby affair, settled by the game’s only try right at the start and then as so often by the boot of Jonny Wilkinson, from the mark and the field, 14-9.
No one could quite believe that a team thrashed to nil a month earlier had made it back to the final, far less that Wilko’s army would now face the team which inflicted the savaging. After the drama of the earlier rounds, it was all a bit disappointing – no tries and Percy Montgomery’s boot always putting the Springboks too far ahead. The 15-6 scoreline meant England, in fact, conceded more points in the knock-out phase than it scored. Both sides, nevertheless, headed for home content.