A look back at the six previous rugby union World Cup finals.
1987 - Australia and New Zealand
The first World Cup was held in the southern hemisphere with Australia and New Zealand co-hosting. Seven of the 16 places were filled by the traditional world powers while invitations went out to nine others. The group stages were predictably one-sided.
Australia were the favourites with New Zealand and France expected to provide the stiffest opposition, and so it proved. The semifinal between the Australians and the French was the match of the tournament and is still regarded as a classic with Serge Blanco's late wonder try ensuring a northern hemisphere representation in the final.
The French were no match for Brian Lochore's All Blacks, however, going down 9-29 as the Kiwis won the World Cup for the first and until this day only time.
Winners - New Zealand
1991 - England (with games also in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France)
The quarterfinalists from 1987 were joined by eight teams who made it through regional qualifying. This time the All Blacks started favourites, but they were to be upstaged by the Australians.
In the group stages there was a major upset with Western Samoa's 16-13 win over Wales in Cardiff which sent the Pacific Islanders into the last eight along with Canada, who ousted Fiji.
The David Campese-inspired Wallabies nearly fell to Ireland in Dublin in the quarterfinals, but they survived and comfortably defeated the All Blacks in the semifinals.
England ousted Scotland at the same stage, but they were out-thought and outplayed by the Australians 6-12 in a disappointing final at Twickenham.
Winners - Australia
1995 - South Africa
With apartheid at an end, South Africa was back in the fold of international sport and what became known as the Rainbow World Cup was a powerful political statement. Again 16 teams were involved and again Wales failed to make it to the quarterfinals after a heart-breaking 24-23 loss to Ireland.
There was no question who was the star of the tournament. Giant All Black winger Jonah Lomu was an attacking force like nothing seen before in rugby union. His four tries against shell-shocked England in the semifinals remains one of the most outstanding individual accomplishments in the history of the World Cup.
But even Lomu could not turn back the Springboks' tide in the final as Francois Pienaar's side won 15-12 in extra-time in front of a rapturous crowd in Johannesburg. The skipper received the Webb Ellis Cup from the hands of President Nelson Mandela clad in Springbok green. There were bitter accusations later that the Kiwis had been subject to a food-poisoning plot in their hotel on the eve of the final.
Winners - South Africa
1999 - Wales (with games also in England, France, Scotland and Ireland)
The tournament was expanded from 16 to 20 teams split into five groups of four countries, which necessitated a play-off format involving the five runners-up and best third-placed side to make up the quarterfinals.
With centre Tim Horan to the fore, Australia went from strength to strength extinguishing the Welsh fire in front of a charged-up Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
But the All Blacks were still the hot favourites until they came to grief in a classic semifinal at Twickenham against France. The French had looked below par in their previous games, but from the start they took the game to the Kiwis, showing great flair and invention as they turned around a 10-24 deficit to win 43-31.
Sadly for Pierre Berbizier's men, they were unable to reproduce the fireworks against the cool and calculating Australians in the final. Skippered by incomparable lock John Eales, the Wallabies won 35-12 to lift the World Cup for the second time.
Winners - Australia
2003 - Australia
This edition of the World Cup was originally awarded jointly to Australia and New Zealand, but a dispute over stadium advertising left the Australians to organise the tournament alone. The 20-team format was maintained, but this time the teams were split into four groups of five with the top two reaching the quarterfinals.
The group stages saw the usual lop-sided results with Australia racking up a record margin 142-0 victory over Namibia. Predictably the quarterfinals involved the old Five Nations plus New Zealand, Australia and South Africa from the south.
Both semifinals were knife-edge affairs, England edging ill-disciplined France in a Sydney downpour and Australia outsmarting the hugely fancied All Blacks thanks to Stirling Mortlock's interception try.
The final was a thriller with Jonny Wilkinson's dramatic drop goal in extra-time clinching the first World Cup win for England and the northern hemisphere.
Winners - England
2007 - France (with games also in Scotland and Wales)
The latest edition retained the 20-team, four-pool format and produced enough surprises to suggest a slight reshuffle in the old world order. They began in the opening game when Argentina turned over the hosts, going on to beat the fancied Irish and finish top of their group. They later bested France again in the third-place play-off.
Georgia came within a whisker of beating Ireland, losing 12-14, while Fiji eliminated Wales. Perennial favourites New Zealand and Australia both cruised through the group stages -- the All Blacks racking up a century against Portugal, the only amateur side -- before stumbling in the quarterfinals to France and England respectively.
France had beaten the English for the tournament's hosting rights, but the boot was on the other foot in the semis as England won 14-9.
In the final at Stade de France in Paris the holders met South Africa, who had humiliated them 36-0 in the group stages. England's Mark Cueto had a try ruled out -- debate still rages about whether his toe scuffed the touchline or not -- and the boots of Francois Steyn and Percy Montgomery gave the Springboks their second World Cup triumph.
Winners - South Africa
* Results from the six previous World Cup finals and third-place play-offs:
1987 in Australia/New Zealand
Final: New Zealand 29 France 9 in Auckland
Third-place play-off: Wales 22 Australia 21 in Rotorua
1991 in Britain/Ireland
Final: Australia 12 England 6 in London
Third-place play-off: New Zealand 13 Scotland 6 in Cardiff
1995 in South Africa
Final: South Africa 15 New Zealand 12 in Johannesburg
Third-place play-off: France 19 England 9 in Pretoria
1999 in Britain/Ireland/France
Final: Australia 35 France 12 in Cardiff
Third-place play-off: South Africa 22 New Zealand 18 in Cardiff
2003 in Australia
Final: England 20 Australia 17 in Sydney
Third-place play-off: New Zealand 40 France 13 in Sydney
2007 in France/Wales/Scotland
Final: South Africa 15 England 6 in Paris
Third-place play-off: Argentina 34 France 10 in Paris
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