It is odd looking back to imagine that anyone ever thought a Rugby World Cup was a bad idea. But they did.
In a meeting of the International Rugby Board in 1984, both Scotland and Ireland voted against the idea while the English and Welsh each cast one vote in favour and one against, a precursor perhaps to the division which has marked Brexit.
Fortunately, Australia, New Zealand, France and South Africa – who were members of the IRB in spite of the apartheid-induced international sporting sanction – all voted in favour and the idea was born.
Chronicled here are the four most recent tournaments, from 2003 through until 2015:
Final: Australia 17 England 20 (aet) (Stadium Australia, Sydney)
Third: New Zealand 40 France 13
After four successive wins for southern hemisphere sides, there was genuine concern that the European sides would never be good enough to challenge. That fear was put to bed by an England team that had developed over several seasons and a year before the tournament had beaten both Australia and New Zealand down under. Martin Johnson’s team, heavily reliant on the boot and vision of Jonny Wilkinson, eased through to the final where they met an Australia side which had grown during the tournament, beating the All Blacks in the semi-finals. The final was another epic which went to extra-time, Wilkinson sealing an English win with a drop goal just 20 seconds before the end. It remains the only win by a European side in eight tournaments.
Final: England 6 South Africa 15 (Stade de France, Paris)
Third: Argentina 34 France 10
This tournament of surprises began with Argentina beating hosts France in the opening match and ended with South Africa claiming their second title. In between Fiji beat the Welsh who consequently missed out on the quarter-finals as did Ireland who, like the French, were undone by a bold and exciting Pumas team. In the last eight, Thierry Dusautoir’s French side then turned the tables on the All Blacks in Cardiff, the only occasion when New Zealand have failed to reach the semi-finals. The 2003 champions England were a mess at the start of their defence, slipping to a 36-nil thrashing by the Springboks in the pool stage but they recovered to edge Australia in the quarters and France in the semis. The final was tight and there was plenty of debate over a disallowed England try when Mark Cueto was adjudged to have brushed the touchline. Victory for the Boks while Argentina undid the French a second time to take the third-place play-off.
Hosts: New Zealand
Final: New Zealand 8 France 7 (Eden Park, Auckland)
Third: Australia 21 Wales 18
Twenty-four years after the first tournament, the World Cup returned to New Zealand where the country was desperate for the All Blacks to reassert their dominance. And the players responded by working their way through the draw with no great alarms. The drama followed the European teams, England staggering from one nightclub shambles to another while the French almost rebelled against coach Marc Lievremont after losing to Tonga in the pool stages. Wales played with real flair and seemed the All Blacks’ likely opponents in the final but a Sam Warburton tip tackle led to a red card in the semi-final against the French who went on to win by a single point. The final at Eden Park, venue for New Zealand’s win in 1987, was equally tight. The French were better on the day but couldn’t break down the home defence and the All Blacks clung on to win 8-7, the lowest-scoring final to date.
Final: Australia 17 New Zealand 34 (Twickenham)
Third place: South Africa 24 Argentina 13
Another disaster for England, as they became the first host nation to fail to reach the quarter-finals, beaten in their pool by both Wales and Australia. Ireland finally looked as though they were going to make their presence felt at a World Cup, beating France in a fierce contest to top their pool but they then succumbed to Argentina in the quarter-finals. Georgia gave notice of their growing ambitions with two wins in their pool and a good showing against the All Blacks but they didn’t make the last eight. Japan also missed out in spite of an historic and thrilling last-minute win over South Africa, probably the greatest shock result in World Cup history. The Boks regrouped and began to shape as real contenders when they saw off Wales in the last eight but the All Blacks then edged a monumental semi-final 20-18. New Zealand took charge of the final against Australia before the Wallabies staged a second half rally. With Dan Carter pulling the strings, the All Blacks reasserted themselves, however, to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time, becoming the first team to defend their crown successfully.