An A-Z of the Rugby World Cup, ahead of the opener between the All Blacks and France
[#if ContentImage??]
    [#if ContentImage?is_hash]
        [#if ContentImage.alt??]

The 10th instalment of the Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday when hosts France take on the All Blacks in a mouthwatering entrée in Paris.

Here, we look back over the tournament's rich 36-year history, picking out some memorable moments and key figures from the past and present.

A – is for All Blacks, the joint most successful team on the global stage with three titles.

New Zealand captured the inaugural Rugby World Cup on home soil in 1987 but had to wait another 24 years to get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup after a series of chokes.

That 2011 triumph over France was backed up by another title four years later at Twickenham, the All Blacks' first overseas.

However, their hopes of a three-peat were dashed by a dominant England in Yokohama, a defeat made even tougher to swallow by South Africa going on to lift the trophy for a record-equalling third time.

Ranked fourth in the world, Ian Foster's current vintage are among the favourites to win an unprecedented fourth crown in France.

B – is for 'Beaver', aka Stephen Donald, the man who ended more than two decades of hurt by kicking New Zealand to glory in the 2011 final.

Not named in the initial squad, a string of injuries at first-five saw an SOS go out to Waikato's Donald, who duly answered. Then, a knee injury to Aaron Cruden 34 minutes into the title decider saw Donald enter the fray, carrying the weight of a nation on his back.

The boy from Waiuku wore it well, kicking what proved to be the match-winning penalty to secure both the Rugby World Cup and cult hero status in New Zealand.

C – is for champions. Only four countries have had their name engraved on the Webb Ellis Cup – New Zealand and South Africa lead the way with three titles apiece, while Australia have been victorious twice, in 1991 and 1999.

England went all the way in 2003 and remain the only side from the northern hemisphere to conquer the world.

That could all change in France, where Ireland will be the No 1-ranked team and the hosts are also fancied to break their duck after three runners-up finishes.

D – is for De Beer, Jannie, the South African first-five who booted England out of the 1999 tournament.

In an eagerly anticipated quarterfinal at the Stade de France, De Beer proved just the tonic for the Springboks as he landed no fewer than five drop goals in a comprehensive 44-21 win over Sir Clive Woodward's side.

E – is for England, the international rugby team that Kiwis love to hate.

The Red and Whites have traditionally performed well at Rugby World Cups, reaching four of nine finals but only winning one of them, in 2003.

However, they did suffer the ignominy of being the first hosts to bow out in the pool stage when they lost to Wales and Australia at the 2015 tournament.

This time round Steve Borthwick's men, ranked eighth in the world, are not expected to mount a serious challenge after a wretched run of form. Yet the English have a habit of defying expectations.

F – is for forward pass. Nothing gets All Blacks fans' blood boiling more than their infamous 2007 quarterfinal loss to France, when they coughed up a 10-point halftime lead to lose 20-18 in Cardiff.

The shock result was made possible by rookie English referee Wayne Barnes, who became public enemy No 1 in New Zealand after missing an obvious forward pass from Damien Traille to Freddie Michalak in the lead up to a French try.

That condemned the All Blacks to their earliest ever exit from a Rugby World Cup and plunged the rugby-mad nation into a deep period of mourning.

Barnes has since owned up to his costly mistake and established himself as one of the top whistleblowers in the game.

G – is for Gatland, Warren, the Kiwi coach who is back in charge of Wales having guided them to the semifinals of the 2011 and 2019 tournaments, where they were beaten by Australia and South Africa, respectively.

The 59-year-old may have his work cut out matching that this time, with the Welsh ranked 10th in the world below Pool C rivals Australia (9th) and Fiji (7th) after a dismal run of results.

H – is for haka, the iconic ritual that the All Blacks' perform prior to all their matches. The traditional Māori war dance has become a distinctive part of New Zealand rugby's identity since 1888.

Fans across the globe can expect another spine-tingling rendition before the All Blacks' opener with hosts France.

I – is for Ireland, the top-ranked team coming into this Rugby World Cup.

Coached by Andy Farrell – father of England skipper Owen – the men in green have a surprisingly poor record at the sport's global showpiece, failing to go beyond the quarterfinals in nine attempts.

It was the same story four years ago in Japan where they were trounced 46-14 by the All Blacks in the last eight.

Will the luck of the Irish finally turn in France?

J – is for Jones, Eddie, the current coach of the Wallabies who has been one of the most significant figures in Rugby World Cup history.

The cantankerous Jones has taken two teams to the title match (Australia in 2003, England in 2019) and come out on the losing side both times.

However, he did help mastermind South Africa's 2007 triumph in an advisory role and was in charge of Japan when they pulled off arguably the biggest shock in the tournament's history, a 34-32 upset of the mighty Springboks.

Despite dropping his first five matches in his second spell with Australia, Jones remains bullish about their hopes and caused a stir by bringing in former All Blacks coach Steven Hansen to help them prepare for France.

K – is for Kolisi, Siya, the first black captain of South Africa to hold the trophy aloft.

In a hugely symbolic moment for a country – and team – long riven by racial division, the classy flanker led the Springboks to glory in Japan wearing the same No 6 jersey as Francois Pienaar had in their fabled 1995 success.

“We have a lot of problems in our country, but when our team comes together ... it shows we can pull together to achieve something,” Kolisi, who grew up in poverty, reflected after their 32-12 victory over England.

Now 32, Kolisi will aim to repeat the trick in France as the reigning world champions chase a record fourth crown.

L – is for Lomu, Jonah, the late, great All Black who, despite never getting his hands on a winners' medal, is the most iconic figure in the competition's history.

Built like a proverbial brick outhouse, Lomu broke the mould for a traditional winger with his lethal combination of power and speed.

He took the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa by storm, scoring two tries against Ireland in the pool and another in a 48-30 quarterfinal victory over Scotland.

However, it was in the semifinal against England that Lomu really announced himself to the world, running in four tries – including one where he bulldozed hapless fullback Mike Catt – in a thrilling 45-29 win in Cape Town.

Despite only playing at two Rugby World Cups, Lomu shares the record for the most tries alongside South African flyer Bryan Habana with 15.

All Blacks legend Richie McCaw is the only captain to have guided his team to two Rugby World Cups.

M – is for McCaw, Richie, the All Blacks' inspirational captain who led the team to back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2015.

One of the finest players to ever wear the black jersey, McCaw was capped 148 times by his country in a glittering career that saw him play in four Rugby World Cups and named World Rugby's player of the decade.

Not bad for a shy boy who grew up on a farm in Oamaru.

N – is for Namibia, the African nation who suffered the heaviest ever defeat ever at a Rugby World Cup, thumped 142-0 by hosts Australia in 2003.

The annihilation at Adelaide Oval featured 22 tries, including five to Chris Latham, and fittingly came at a cricket ground where a score of that nature is more commonplace.

The Welwitschias are competing at their sixth finals in France where they will be one of the All Blacks' Pool A opponents.

O – is for Ormaechea, Diego, the Uruguayan No 8 who became the oldest player to take to the field in a Rugby World Cup match in 1999.

Ormaechea was 40 years and 26 days young when he played in Los Teros' 39-3 loss to South Africa at Hampden Park. Eight days earlier, he had scored a try in a 27-15 win over Spain.

Ormaechea's 32-year-old son, Agustin, has been named in Uruguay's 33-man squad for this year's tournament and could feature against the All Blacks.

P – is for Paris, the city that will host this year's title decider on Sunday, October 29 (NZT).

It's not the first time the French capital has staged rugby's biggest game, with the 2007 final between South Africa and England also taking place at the Stade de France, the Springboks running out 15-6 winners.

Q – is for Quesada, Gonzalo, the Argentina first five-eighth who holds the record for the most penalties in a single tournament after converting an astonishing 31 in 1999 as the Pumas reached the quarterfinals.

Quesada scored a competition-high 102 of Argentina's 137 points, including a 27-point haul against Samoa in which he nailed eight penalties – another record he shares with three other players.

R – is for Romania. At 19 in the world rankings, the Stejarii are the third-lowest ranked team at the tournament ahead of Chile and Namibia and once played the All Blacks in a 1981 test in Bucharest, only losing 14-6.

S – is for Suzie, the mysterious waitress who allegedly poisoned the All Blacks ahead of the 1995 final against hosts South Africa.

In the wake of New Zealand's 15-12 defeat in Johannesburg, coach Laurie Mains revealed that 27 of his 35-strong touring party had fallen violently ill 48 hours before their date with destiny.

Mains was convinced there was foul play involved and pointed the finger at Suzie, who supposedly began working at the team hotel days before the match, before disappearing into thin air.

But the conspiracy theory has never been proven and was pooh-poohed by several members of the Springboks' winning team, who accused the All Blacks of looking for excuses.

T – is for 'Ted', as former All Blacks mentor Sir Graham Henry is affectionately known. It was Henry who guided his country to that drought-breaking Rugby World Cup victory 12 years ago, sparking scenes of elation and relief from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island.

He was swiftly awarded a knighthood in the New Year Honours list for helping restore the mana of a nation where rugby is king.

U – is for Underwood, Tony, the England winger who is perhaps best known for inadvertently inspiring his All Blacks counterpart Jonah Lomu to deliver one of the all-time great performances at a Rugby World Cup.

In the build-up to their crunch semifinal, Underwood had talked down the threat of the 20-year-old Lomu, suggesting he couldn't match him for pace and hadn't been tested yet.

The All Blacks used this slip of the tongue to their advantage, removing the TV from Lomu's room so he would brood over Underwood's comments.

It certainly had the desired effect, as the four-try Lomu put the English to the sword and made Underwood eat his words.

To his credit, Underwood was able to laugh at his misfortune, starring in a hilarious Pizza Hut ad in the UK alongside Lomu in which he and brother Rory are rescued by their mother.

V – is for Vaea, Matthew, the Western Samoa halfback who kicked the island nation to a massive upset over Wales in 1991.

Playing in front of an expectant Cardiff crowd, the Welsh were tipped to make short work of the Samoans. But Vaea had other ideas, kicking two penalties and converting two tries to help secure an astonishing 16-13 win.

To this day, it remains one of the biggest upsets in test history. Western Samoa advanced from the pool before their fairytale run was ended by Scotland in the quarterfinals.

W – is for Wilkinson, Jonny, the England great whose trusty boot guided Sir Clive Woodward's men to their only title in 2003.

With just 26 seconds left on the clock and the scores level, Wilkinson stepped up when his country needed him to plant a drop goal between the posts with his weaker foot and clinch a dramatic 20-17 victory over hosts Australia in Sydney.

As well as a winners' medal, Wilkinson also holds the distinction of scoring the most overall points in Rugby World Cup history – 277 in 19 appearances across four tournaments.

Dan Carter is New Zealand's most prolific points scorer on the global stage with 191 from 15 matches.

X – is for X-factor, that vital ingredient so often required to settle tight encounters at the business end of Rugby World Cups.

We saw it with Dan Carter's magical display against the Wallabies in the 2015 decider, where his drop goal gave the All Blacks some breathing room with 10 minutes remaining. And Frédéric Michalak provided the inspiration off the bench for France when they sent New Zealand packing in 2007.

This year, the likes of Richie Mo'unga, Antoine Dupont and Cheslin Kolbe will be called upon to make a difference when something out of the ordinary is needed to get their team over the line.

Y – is for yellow cards, a whopping 28 of which were dished out during the previous Rugby World Cup in 2019 amid a crackdown on dangerous play.

Three New Zealanders were among those sent to the sin-bin in Japan, including forwards Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu'ungafasi for high shots against Namibia. Samoa were the worst offenders, copping six yellows in total.

A similar no-nonsense approach from officials is expected in France as the game grapples with a concussion crisis.

Z – is for Zinzan Brooke, the legendary All Blacks forward who played in three Rugby World Cups and was part of the 1987 title-winning squad.

Widely considered one of the most gifted forwards of all time, 'Zinny' bagged 17 tries in his 57 tests and often played alongside his brother, Robin.