Australia v New Zealand: a Rugby World Cup history

Ahead of next weekend’s final we look back at the rival’s three tournament meetings

Next Saturday's Rugby World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand should prove a fitting climax for what has been - bar home nation disappointment - an excellent edition of the game's biggest tournament.

Michael Cheika’s Wallabies take on Steve Hansen’s All Blacks at Twickenham with both sides looking to make history and become the first nation to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time.

The great Antipodean rivals have been dominant at the World Cup since its inception in 1987 - New Zealand winning the first and then the most recent tournament in 2011, Australia being crowned kings of the world in 1991and 1999 - with only South Africa and England able to break their duopoly.

But while next weekend’s showdown will be the first time the two nation’s have met in rugby’s showpiece event, they have met in the semi-finals three times before - with the current score standing at 2-1 to the Aussies.


So before the globe's two best sides go to war for the game's biggest prize, here's a look back at Australia versus New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup.

1991 Rugby World Cup semi-final, Lansdowne Road, Australia 16 New Zealand 6

Australia and New Zealand played each other for the first time in 1903 but it wasn’t until 1991 they met on neutral soil. The venue, Lansdowne Road. The occasion, the World Cup semi-final.

New Zealand had progressed into the last four having beaten England in the pools before cruising past Canada in the quarter-finals. Australia meanwhile had just emerged from a clash for the ages against Ireland, where Michael Lynagh’s last gasp score broke Irish hearts.

But despite this the Lansdowe Road crowd, having witnessed Nick Farr-Jones’ side pip their heroes a week earlier, were firmly behind the Wallabies as they took to the pitch against the All Blacks.

And Australia flew out of the blocks as though they were in Brisbane rather than Ballsbridge, dominating the All Blacks in a manner which has only happened a handful of times throughout history.

Australia controlled possession and territory to the extent New Zealand outhalf Grant Fox didn't have his first shot at goal until the second half.

As in the quarter-final, David Campese was at the heart of everything Australia did, and he set the tone with a try after seven minutes.

Australia had a lineout on the near touchline and moved the ball right. As it came back, Campese had positioned himself at flyhalf. He set off on a diagonal line, the ball tucked under his right armpit and Phil Kearns and Bob Egerton outside him.

But instead of passing, or stepping, or checking inside, Campese kept his line, the All Blacks defence stood off for a vital moment and ‘Campo’ shot like a bullet into the corner.

And while Campese’s try was a moment of genius it paled into insignificance compared to his next act. Lynagh kicked the ball in behind and Campese ran onto it. He weaved left and right and then goose-stepped back inside, creating a vital bit of space on the right flank.

Then, with his eyes looking infield, Campese played the most audacious, reverse ball over his right shoulder and to Tim Horan who sailed over in the corner.

It was a moment of pure genius from a pure genius. Australia were 13-0 up and New Zealand were finished.

Australia went on to win 16-6 and reach their maiden World Cup final, where they saw off England 12-6 at Twickenham.

After two tournaments it was one apiece for the Wallabies and the All Blacks.

2003 Rugby World Cup semi-final, Telstra Stadium Sydney, Australia 22 New Zealand 10

Unlike this year’s tournament the 2003 World Cup progressed in such a way the final was always destined to be contested by the cream of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with South Africa, Australia and New Zealand on one side of the quarter-final draw and Ireland, England, Wales and France on the other.

Inevitably this meant England would play France in one semi-final, while hosts Australia would play New Zealand in the other.

The 2003 semi-final was just the second meeting between the great Antipodean rivals, and by the time the two met in Sydney in 2003 it was Australia who had the richer World Cup pedigree with two wins to New Zealand’s one, something which seemed improbable when the All Blacks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.

Ahead of the game Australia had been heavy under the pressure of trying to defend the trophy on home soil, while New Zealand had been playing scintillating rugby with the likes of Carlos Spencer and Joe Rokocoko thrilling the world.

But it was Spencer who first erred at the Telstra Stadium, throwing a miss pass out to the left which hung in the air for a fraction too long and allowed Stirling Mortlock to intercept, running nearly the length of the pitch to score.

Throughout, Eddie Jones' side kept the ball in hand, even if it meant conceding territory (they had 66% of the ball in the first half), and thus were able to starve New Zealand's deadly back three of Rokocoko, Mils Muliaina and Doug Howlett of the ball they craved.

With Leon MacDonald unable to find his kicking groove and Elton Flatley keeping the scoreboard ticking for the Wallabies, New Zealand were never able to force their way back into the match, losing 22-10.

New Zealand, the tournament’s most exciting attacking team, had lost a third semi-final in five World Cups.

On the final whistle Australia captain George Gregan twisted the knife. “Four more years boys. Four more years.”

New Zealand would be waiting another eight.

2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final, Eden Park, New Zealand 20 Australia 6

By the time the 2011 Rugby World Cup rolled around the mighty All Blacks were still searching for their second win after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in the inaugural tournament in 1987.

In the five editions of the World Cup which had passed since that success New Zealand had lost one final, been stunned twice by the French and suffered two galling semi-final defeats to their great rivals Australia - who by now had won the tournament twice.

So with the World Cup back on home soil four years ago there was quite simply no option for Graham Henry’s side but to win the thing, and never has one team quite carried the hopes of a nation in the same way before.

As the All Blacks marched towards absolution Australia once again stood in their way in the semi-finals, but this time there would be no way the Wallabies would spoil the party.

In the same manner in which they had been blown away by David Campese in the early stages of the 1991 semi, the All Blacks flew out of the blocks at Eden Park, Ma'a Nonu crossing after just six minutes before Piri Weepu and Aaron Cruden kept the board ticking to give the tournament hosts a 14-6 half time lead.

And that lead proved insurmountable as New Zealand kept the Wallabies at arms length, with inspirational skipper Richie McCaw stopping the excellent David Pockock from asserting his influence on the game.

As the final whistle went the Auckland crowd chanted, “Four more years, four more years” as they banished the painful memories of Sydney and George Gregan in 2003.

New Zealand were nearly there.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times