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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK

1987: Pioneers Down Under

Kiwi captain David Kirk becomes the first captain to lift the Webb Ellis trophy

When New Zealand and Australia broke rank with the International Rugby Board and held a so-called "pilot" World Cup in 1987 it changed the face of the game forever.

Within days everybody realised it was the best thing to happen since William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball and ran with it.

Australia were the firm favourites moving into the tournament, ahead of New Zealand and France. Several former Kiwi players and a number of leading journalists expressed the opinion that the mighty All Blacks had no better than an outside chance of the title.

[ image: England: Dejected and defeated by Wales in the knockout stages]
England: Dejected and defeated by Wales in the knockout stages
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were proven wrong. New Zealand, under the helm of David Kirk, kicked off the tournament with a 70-6 thrashing of Italy - a result that only provided ammunition for those against the tournament.

It was the first time since the game had been kicked out of the Olympic Games in 1924 that a 15-side tournament had been played amongst the world's leading nations.

Participation was by invitation only and, with South Africa excluded because of the apartheid policies of the government, nine nations were fairly randomly selected to join the big seven.

Most notable amongst those omitted were Western Samoa, who were to prove the surprise package at the 1991 tournament.

England robbed

With New Zealand notching up 190 points in Pool 3, the other groups were dominated by Australia and Wales, while France progressed as winners of Pool 4 despite a hard-fought 20-20 draw against Scotland.

England had fallen to the Aussies at the first hurdle, thanks to a terrible decision by New Zealand referee, Keith Lawrence.

Smith scores a try for the Wallabies in their quarter-final win over Ireland
With the score 6-6 midway through the second-half and the English pack clearly dominating, Lawrence gave Australian winger David Campese a try after he had literally thrown the ball away in Peter Williams' tackle over the line.

The Wallabies ultimately secured the match and a place in the quarter-finals with a 19-6 win.

All Blacks march on

Berbizer scores a consolation try for France against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup final
At the knockout stage, Scotland battled valiantly, but could make no impression against the All Blacks whose fly-half Grant Fox, kicked superbly to ensure an easy victory.

Wales defeated an out-of-form England side 16-3, thanks to tries from Gareth Roberts, Robert Jones and John Devereux. Ireland fell to Australia, despite a late fightback and France out-muscled a dazzling Fijian side by four tries to two.

[ image: Serge Blanco: Winning try against Australia]
Serge Blanco: Winning try against Australia
With Australia facing France, and the All Blacks Wales, it seemed unlikely that New Zealand would not make the last two.

The consensus proved correct. The Welsh were humiliated in Brisbane going down 49-6, their worst defeat ever. To make matters worse, Huw Richards gained an unwanted place in history by becoming the first player to receive a red-card in the tournament.

The match had been a dreadful disappointment after the first semi-final in Sydney. Those against the Rugby World Cup concept had predicted wars of attrition in the final stages because so much would be at stake - they were silenced forever.

New Zealand's Michael Jones scores a vital try against the French
The game instead proved one of the greatest ever. France came from behind three times, from 9-0, 25-12 and 24-21 to secure a place in the final with injured full-back Serg Blanco touching down in the corner in the final minute.

Unfortunately the final also proved a much less dramatic affair. The All Blacks' defence was truly awesome and the game relied on positional kicking after rain had left the going deep at Eden Park.

A summary of the 1987 Rugby World Cup final
New Zealand built an early lead through the boot of Fox and a try from player-of-the-tournament Michael Jones. They weathered the French charge in the second quarter and finished them off with tries from Kirk and John Kirwan.

The All Blacks secured the match 29-9 and with it the first ever World Cup.

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