England may have fallen at the first hurdle but, contrary to what some people may lead you to believe, Rugby World Cup 2015 hasn’t ended. With the Pool phase now complete, the quarter-finals are upon us, bringing together the eight greatest nations in world rugby. And this is where the real drama enters the equation. Every match is now a straight knockout: the winner progresses, the loser goes home.
So, what better way to whet your appetite for what is about to unfold than by revisiting eight great quarter-finals from Rugby World Cups gone by…
1. A STING IN THE TAIL
Australia 19-18 Ireland October 20, 1991
The most excruciating example of Rugby World Cup heartbreak in one of the Tournament’s finest ever matches. Ireland were rank outsiders in their quarter-final with mighty Australia, despite enjoying home advantage and some very vocal backing at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.
And for 75 minutes of a tight encounter, things seemed to be following the script: Australia had scored the only two tries of the match and had edged 15-12 ahead. But then, quite unexpectedly and from out of nowhere, Ireland broke, tearing 40 yards down the touchline and crossing the line to spark scenes of wild celebration, with fans spilling onto the field and mobbing the players. The try was converted to put the hosts ahead and seemingly out of sight, but there was still time on the clock and a sting in the tail.
Never knowingly beaten, the Aussies poured forward and somehow squeezed home in the corner. At the death, they had risen from the dead. Ireland wept heroic tears. Australia went on to beat England in the Final.
2. THE DAY LE DREAM DIED
France 10-19 England October 19, 1991
It was described as the death of romanticism, the day an irresistible force was knocked to its knees by a wave of white shirts. Back then, as now, France were the game’s great swashbucklers, a team capable of imperious highs and lamentable lows, often in the same encounter.
England, by contrast, was a team in decline, and few were surprised that they played to their strengths by taking a physical approach to this quarter-final, but the unrelenting ferocity was quite unexpected.
More sinned against than sinning, but not entirely blameless themselves, the French huffed and puffed through a brutal encounter but could not find another gear. England had weathered the storm and were on the front foot. At 10-10 going into the final minute, the white shirts stole through to run home the winning points, and Parc de Princes Stadium fell in to stunned silence.
3. DROP OUTS
England 25-22 Australia June 11, 1995
In an encounter low on running rugby but off the scale for tension, England had edged themselves 13-6 ahead in the quarter-final in Cape Town at the end of the first half, their pack proving too powerful for the Australians. And yet within a minute of the restart the match was level, a try and a conversion tying things up at 13-13.
From there the two heavyweights matched each other kick for kick and by the time the 80 minutes were up, the score read 22-22 and the match seemed set for extra time. But England were busy rewriting the script, and as the fat lady cleared her throat, a drop goal despatched between the sticks from fully 45 yards sailed gloriously — and improbably — between the posts to finally break Australian resistance and hearts.
The green-and-gold shirts went home, England romped on to a semi-final defeat to New Zealand.
4. RUNNING RIOT
New Zealand 48-30 Scotland June 11, 1995
Some encounters are nervy affairs, reduced to a war of attrition and becoming a test of who can kick most effectively to eke out the win. Others unfold in a joyous riot of running rugby that plays out more like a seven-a-side encounter than the quarter-final of a Rugby World Cup.
This was such an affair; New Zealand and Scotland traded blows and ran in nine tries between them. Alas poor Scotland, only three of those tries were theirs, though they could at least take comfort in becoming only the second team to pile up 30 points against their opponents. Alas for New Zealand, it proved ultimately futile: South Africa (and Nelson Mandela) proved too strong for them in the Final.
5. EXIT THE DRAGON
England 28-17 Wales November 9 2003
En route to victory Down Under in 2003, England had to survive an almighty scrape against a familiar old foe. Wales had played New Zealand the previous week and pushed them hard in a 53-37 defeat. They arrived at Brisbane Stadium in a bullish mood and forged 10-3 ahead with 43 minutes gone.
Shocked into life, England finally found their feet and counter-attacked magnificently to sweep home the try, adding the conversion to pull themselves level. Five unanswered penalties followed as England established a lead and slowly stretched away. Victory set up a semi-final with France. Beaten but unbowed, the Welsh returned home heroes.
6. THE HISTORY BOYS
Argentina 19-13 Scotland October 7, 2007
Having put the cat among the pigeons by beating hosts France on the opening night of the Tournament, Argentina eliminated Ireland in their final pool match to set up a last-eight encounter with Scotland. We should have seen what was coming but didn’t, as the South Americans deservedly edged a tense, nervy encounter to reach the semi-final stage for the first and so far only time.
It wasn’t always pretty to watch, riddled as the match was by handling errors, but the result and progress were all that mattered here. Of course they went out in the semi-finals to eventual champions South Africa, but Argentina beat France again in the Bronze Final to exit on a historic high.
7. PACK MENTALITY
England 12-10 Australia October 6, 2007
From staring into the abyss of Rugby World Cup elimination following their 36-0 defeat at the hands of South Africa in the pool phase, holders England somehow roused themselves to bloody the nose of Australia for the second Tournament running.
The southern hemisphere heavyweights went into the match as overwhelming favourites, but they and we had overlooked England’s pack, which slowly but surely pulverised their opponent in to submission. Overturning a 10-6 half-time deficit, two unanswered second half penalties edged England through and booked them a semi-final encounter against New Zealand. Well, so we all thought…
8. RAGING BULL
France 20-18 New Zealand October 6, 2007
As always seems to be the case, New Zealand arrived in France as Tournament favourites for Rugby World Cup 2007, but this time they were more fancied than ever. Hosts France began this encounter by marching manfully forward and eyeballing their opponents during the Haka – much like yanking the nose ring of a raging bull.
A fired-up New Zealand spent the next 40 minutes exacting their revenge, pounding France and opening up a 13-3 lead. But for all their dominance they could never quite put the match to bed and when the French backs finally woke up as an attacking force, we witnessed one of Rugby World Cup’s greatest recoveries.
Built on a collective willingness to run through brick walls for one another, France powered their way back into the match and sealed victory with a try 10 minutes from the end. By the end, the hosts had notched up more than 200 tackles. New Zealand were bruised, broken and out of a Rugby World Cup before the semi-final stage for the first time.
This article was commissioned via NewsCred's NewsRoom and written by freelance contributor Nick Harper.