THE RUGBY WORLD CUP: THE LEADING NATIONS

The Rugby World Cup takes place every four years. We take a look at the game's leading nations. 

So you love watching the all-action encounters between the giants of international rugby but would like to know more about their history and achievements? We'll put you in the picture. 

 

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NEW ZEALAND

The world's premier rugby nation. Many of you have no doubt learned to locate the country on a map thanks to its world-famous All Blacks. New Zealand founded its national team in 1892, which played its first match that same year against the Australian state of New South Wales. 

The men's national team is known as the All Blacks, in reference to their all-black kit. Its badge is a silver fern.

The All Blacks are regarded as the best team in the world. They are the favourites to win every competition they take part in. They deserve that status, as their magnificent record shows: 16 Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship titles out of a possible 22 and  three World Cups, in 1987, 2011 and 2015, a tournament record. They also hold a number of other records: consecutive World Cup wins (16) and consecutive test wins (18). 

 

 

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SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa have been major rivals of the All Blacks since 1921. They played their first match in 1891, in the early days of international rugby, on home soil against the British Lions. Isolated for many years in response to the country's apartheid policy, South Africa have acquired a formidable reputation. 

They are nicknamed the Springboks in reference to an antelope found in southern Africa. The Springboks are regarded as one of the strongest nations in the world, thanks in the main to their record of three Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship wins and two World Cup triumphs, in 1995 and 2007. There have since been claims that the New Zealand team that faced South Africa in the 1995 final were deliberately poisoned on the eve of the game. 

The South Africans are also famed for producing powerful forwards. They are renowned for having the most muscular and well-built team. They have also beaten the All Blacks more times than anyone else. 

 

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AUSTRALIA

Hailing from Australia, the Wallabies are the All Blacks' next-door neighbours. They played their first match in 1899, against the British Lions in Australia. The team is named after Australia's national animal. 

With four Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship wins and two World Cup triumphs, the Australians have won more honours than South Africa and have established themselves as heavyweights on the international scene. They also finished World Cup runners-up in 2003 and 2015. After a string of inconsistent performances in the 2000s, which saw them exit the 2007 World Cup at the quarter-final stage, Australia have since turned their fortunes around. They finished third in the 2011 competition before claiming that runners-up place in 2015. 

 

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ENGLAND

England is one of the biggest nations in world rugby thanks to its standing in the game and the fact it invented the sport. The English played their first match in 1871, away to Scotland. The first meeting between the two countries, it was also the first international in rugby history. 

The team's emblem is the rose, which is why it is known in France as the "XV de la rose". England are very often regarded as the best team in the northern hemisphere. The English have won the Six Nations (formerly the Five Nations) a record 38 times. They are also the only nation from the northern hemisphere to have won the Rugby World Cup, in 2003. They finished runners-up in 1991 and 2007. 

At the 2015 World Cup, a tournament they hosted, England failed to progress beyond the pool phase for the first time in their history. It was seen as the biggest disaster in their rugby history. 

 

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FRANCE 

While their record is less impressive than those of the four teams above, France are still a big name in international rugby. They played their first match in 1893, against England. 

The national team is nicknamed Les Bleus. Its emblem is the cockerel. One of world rugby's foremost nations, France have appeared in three World Cup finals, scoring some memorable wins against the All Blacks in the tournament, and have also won 25 Five/Six Nations titles. 

 

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IRELAND 

Like virtually every other country, Ireland played their first match against England, in 1875. The national team's emblem is the shamrock, which is also the symbol of Ireland. 

The Irish are regarded as a leading rugby nation thanks to their 22 Five/Six Nations wins and a remarkable 2018 in which they won the Grand Slam and beat the All Blacks. 

 

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WALES

Wales are one of the top rugby nations in the northern hemisphere. They played their first match in 1880, against an English club. 

The national team's emblem is the Prince of Wales' feathers, which adorn its famous red jerseys. Another of the team's symbols is the leek. Legend has it that prior to a battle that took place in a field of leeks, the Welsh were ordered by their king to wear the vegetable to distinguish themselves from their foes. The Welsh owe their elevated status in the game mainly to their 38 Five/Six Nations title wins. 

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SCOTLAND

A permanent fixture in the Five/Six Nations, Scotland experienced a slump in the early 2000s but have been making real progress since 2014. The Scots played their first international match in 1871 against England, a match they won. 

The national team's emblem is the thistle, a prickly flower that is one of Scotland's national symbols. The Scots wear blue jerseys with a thistle badge and white shorts. 

They won the last Five Nations tournament in 1999, at which point Italy joined the competition. That triumph was followed by a downturn in Scottish fortunes, with regular defeats and several wooden spoons (awarded to the team finishing last in the competition) coming their way in the 2000s. Over the years they have still managed to win the tournament 22 times, as many as Ireland. They have rarely excelled at the World Cup, though they have reached the quarter-finals on every occasion, with the exception of 2011. 

 

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ARGENTINA

Rugby was introduced to Argentina by British immigrants. The first rugby match played in Argentina took place in 1873. Argentina became a member of the IRB (International Rugby Board) in 1987, the year in which it took part in the inaugural Rugby World Cup. There is no professional league in Argentinian rugby. 

The national team's emblem is a jaguar, an animal native to Argentina. Their nickname, however, is the Pumas, the result of an error made by a journalist, who mistook the jaguar for a puma. The nickname has now stuck. 

The Pumas have enjoyed growing success since the turn of the millennium, finishing third at the 2007 World Cup and fourth at the 2015 tournament. 2015 also marked the end of an era, with several big names retiring from international rugby and the national team suffering a series of defeats in the years since then. 

 

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ITALY

Italy have long been regarded as rugby's unfancied newcomers. Having played their first game only in 1928 and joined the Five Nations - who became six with their arrival- in 2000, the Italians do not have the long and impressive histories boasted by some of their European rivals. 

Nicknamed the Squadra Azzurra or the Azzurri, Italy's emblem is the Italian flag poised atop laurel leaves recalling the grandeur of the Roman empire and the power of Julius Caesar. 

The Italians scored some notable results before the 2000s, the most significant of them being a win over France on 22 March 1997. The men in blue flattered to deceive at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, however, losing all their group matches. Knocked out in the group phase in all eight of their World Cup appearances, the Italians have yet to distinguish themselves at the competition. 

 

WORLD RUGBY

World Rugby was founded in 1886 as the IRB (International Rugby Board). It took on its current name in 2014. But what is World Rugby? It is, quite simply, the international organisation that oversees the rules of rugby and also organises international competitions such as the Six Nations and the World Cup. Its brief is also to promote and develop the sport across the globe and it also provides a ranking of the world's rugby nations. World Rugby now has 120 members and its president is former England player Bill Beaumont. 

We've shown you international rugby's leading lights. But over the last few years we've seen other sides such as Japan emerge. So who's your favourite team?  

 

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