In 1987, New Zealand beat France 29-9 at Eden Park, Auckland
New Zealand had the most to gain when 16 teams assembled in the two countries during the southern hemisphere winter of 1987. Rugby contacts with racially segregated South Africa had sullied the reputation of the national sport.
France had the consolation of winning the best match of the tournament, with a 30-24 victory over Australia in their Sydney semi-final after an end-to-end surge involving most of the team climaxed in an unforgettable try for captain Serge Blanco.
In 1991, Australia beat England 12-6 at Twickenham, London
England, who beat Scotland 9-6 in their semi-final through a Rob Andrew drop kick, had assembled a pack at least as good as Australia’s. But captain Will Carling decided to change tactics in the final and run the ball.
Although England dominated possession, the Wallaby defensive line held and they scored the only try of the match through prop Tony Daly.
In 1995, South Africa beat New Zealand 15-12 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
South Africa, readmitted to international sport after the abolition of apartheid, were awarded the 1995 tournament.
New Zealand unveiled a dazzlingly inventive side including Jonah Lomu, built like a lock forward and blessed with the speed of an Olympic sprinter.
In 1999, Australia beat France 35-12 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Lomu, who became rugby’s first global superstar when the game turned professional following the 1995 World Cup, fully lived up to his reputation in his second and final tournament, scoring a try each side of halftime against France in a Twickenham semi-final.
Their opponents in the Cardiff final were Australia, a team who had swiftly adjusted to the new era where rule changes had made ball retention of paramount importance.
Australia had defeated South Africa 27-21 in a battle of the boot and made no contest of the final against a team who had peaked in the semis.
In 2003, England beat Australia 20-17 at Olympic Stadium, Sydney
England coach Clive Woodward believed he had finally assembled a side capable of winning the World Cup and his confidence seemed justified when New Zealand then Australia lost to the grand slam champions on their home grounds leading up to the tournament.
Captain Martin Johnson was a mighty presence at the heart of an awesome pack and flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson could kick goals from any part of the opposition’s half.
England supporters, making up half the crowd, rose to acclaim the first northern hemisphere side to win the trophy.
In 2007 South Africa beat England 15-6 at Stade de France, Paris
England, who had slumped to four years of mediocrity after winning the title and had been thumped 36-0 by the Springboks in the pool phase, threw out the attacking tactics of coach Brian Ashton, returning to a forward-dominated game, which sent them into an second successive final.
The final was a dour, defensive affair as both sides seemed more intent on not losing the game rather than winning it. Four penalties to Percy Montgomery and one to Francois Steyn were enough for the Springboks to become the only side after Australia to lift the trophy for the second time.
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