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Sports / Rugby

The Greatest Rugby World Cup Comebacks Of All Time

Posted 05 Oct 2023

Thrilling matches are the epitome of the Rugby World Cup. It’s on the world stage where the best international teams compete for the ultimate honour in rugby union, aiming to reach the final and lift the iconic Webb Ellis Cup. 

Previous tournaments have underlined why this global event has become so popular. There have been so many memorable games over the years. 

Given the consistently high levels of performance and competition, rugby fans are always keen to watch the action live. Heading into the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, the demand for tickets is already quite phenomenal. The RWC 2023 in France gets underway on 8th September with the pool stages, running through to the knockout phase and the final itself on 28th October. 

Keen to watch your team at the Rugby World Cup this year? Well, avoid the scrum for tickets and book them safely online via Zenseats. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy everything this fascinating tournament will offer. 

One of the most intriguing aspects of tournament rugby is the determination and perseverance that teams show. The best sides never give anything up as a lost cause. This provides us with a fantastic opportunity to look back and explore some of the greatest Rugby World Cup comebacks of all time. 

Best Rugby World Cup Comebacks In History

1999 – France 43-31 New Zealand, Semi-finals 

Twickenham was the stage for this pulsating encounter, featuring a New Zealand side that was enjoying incredible form.

During the pool stage they had thrashed Tonga, demolished England and scored 101 points against Italy. The incredible Jonah Lomu was at his peak, Scotland were brushed aside in the quarter-finals, pitting the All Blacks against France in the semis. 

70,000 fans packed the iconic London rugby venue, which began with an outstanding breakthrough by France, but New Zealand quickly gathered their composure. Lomu scored and gave his team the advantage, regardless of the several Frenchmen attempting to drag him down. Unstoppable in the second half, he put the All Blacks 24-10 ahead. 

Although many watching fans believed this was turning into a one-sided affair, France had other ideas, as Christopher Dominici drove them to a 29-24 comeback lead. 

New Zealand once again forged ahead in this remarkable game, yet with a move that looked more like something from a football match, France charged upfield and secured their breathtaking triumph. 

2015 – Wales 28-25 England, Pool A 

England hosted a truly memorable Rugby World Cup tournament in 2015. Although for the ‘home’ team, the tournament would bring an additional weight of expectation. The same applied to Wales, co-hosting various pool and knockout stage games at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. 

The clash between England and Wales would prove decisive as Twickenham was filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans. Conscious that Australia were the favourites in Pool A, neither side could afford to lose this monumental encounter. So when England had the lead, the home crowd was roaring their approval. 

England were 10 points ahead until Dan Biggar successfully converted two penalties, bringing Wales back into the game. And that’s when the Dragons really began to breathe fire. Gareth Davies ran between the posts with less than 10 minutes on the clock, then with time almost up, who better than Biggar to kick his team to the triumphant final outcome. 

2015 – Japan 34-32 South Africa, Pool B 

Often referred to as the ‘Miracle in Brighton’, nobody was expecting the final outcome of this remarkable game.

South Africa had won two previous tournaments in 1995 and 2007, so they were hot favourites in their opening encounter of 2015. They were up against a Japan side that had never progressed beyond the pool stage. 

South Africa had scored three consecutive tries, but Japan were still in the game and refusing to quit. When Handre Pollard kicked the Springboks ahead with eight minutes left on the clock, it seemed the chances of any upset were over. Then, deep into stoppage time and on the attack, Japan caused one of the biggest shocks in Rugby World Cup history. 

The Cherry Blossoms passed the ball smoothly across the pitch to Karne Hesketh, who, supporting a huge grin of delight across his face, was ready to receive the ball out wide. He scored the try and completed an amazing comeback victory for Japan, much to the delight of his teammates and euphoric Japanese fans in the crowd. 

2019 – Japan 19-12 Ireland, Pool A 

If the previous outcome wasn’t enough proof, our fourth and final great comeback highlights why nobody should ever underestimate the Japanese team. 

As hosts of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the first Asian country to do so, this passionate nation had enough reasons to be inspired. But still considered underdogs by many, they proved everyone wrong once again. 

After comfortably beating Scotland 27-3 in their first match, Ireland were regarded as the strongest side in Pool A, which didn’t seem out of place when they raced into an early lead against Japan. Yet as the game progressed, the margin of difference was much tighter than expected, even when Rob Kearney made it 12-3 for the Irish. 

But with the trusty boot of Yu Tamura, the Cherry Blossom team remained within touching distance of their opponents. On the hour mark Kenki Fukuoka scored Japan’s first try of the game, sparking euphoric scenes at the Shizuoka Stadium in Fukuroi. Once again, Tamura was reliable with the subsequent conversion, as Japan completed their stunning win.

Past examples inspire future ambitions 

The victory for Japan was followed by another against Scotland, as they became the first Asian team to reach the knockout phase at any Rugby World Cup, making that achievement a fitting way to conclude our look at great comebacks.  

Undoubtedly, rugby fans around the globe will be keen to see more thrilling matches and a comeback or two as we head into the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. Broadcasters are already expecting around 4 billion viewers globally, while stadium attendances will also be higher than previous tournaments. 

If you’re planning on making the trip to France, don’t hesitate when looking to get your tickets, and grab them while you can. Should you happen to witness the next great Rugby World Cup comeback, having been there at one of the venues, the match atmosphere and experience will be memories that last an entire lifetime. 

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