1987: Jones, Jones, Jones....
Jones, Jones, Jones, Michael Jones.
They are the names of players whose memory is still fresh but there were other names, like Alan Jones and John Kendall-Carpenter. There was also 'an elephant in the room'.
The elephant in the room was South Africa. They received an invitation. Those who sent it and those who received it knew full well that South Africa would not be able to attend and so declined, but everybody knew what nobody at the World Cup was willing to mention that South Africa was probably the strongest side in the world at the time after beating the B&I Lions, France, Ireland, England (a thrashing) and the New Zealand Cavaliers. Their only defeat was in New Zealand in 1981 and then by a whistle's breath. Noting that was taboo to those who went to New Zealand, and when Louis Luyt brought it up some time later he was vilified.
The 16 teams at the World Cup in 1987 were there by invitation as there was no room for qualification. South Africa turned theirs down, Russia did not answer theirs and a coup d'etat in Fiji nearly put paid to their attendance and Western Samoa was kept on standby in case Fiji could not make, but they did.
The World Cup was approved in 1985 with New Zealand and Australia, the joint hosts. Two years and just under two months later the first match was played. But it went ahead well, if less profitably and glamorously that in later years. There was, for example, no opening ceremony, just a drab speech by Kendall-Carpenter. But then all new competitions in rugby start circumspectly. That said, television exposure brought the game to the world as never before, and the All Blacks captured the imagination right in the very first match as Michael Jones got the first try and John Kirwan a sensational one as he raced 90 metres down the right wing to score. And so the memories go tumbling on.
Severo Koroduadua, the big Fijian flyhalf, went hurtling down the left wing as Fiji seemed on the way to beating France in a quarterfinal. He had the ball in one hand and suddenly it looped forward out of his hand and a possible try went awry.
John Kirwan in that's try in the opening match and Serge Blanco's against Australia in the last minute of the semifinal, a match-winning try. Having scored it Blanco knelt, not in reverent supplication but with his arms on high in triumph. That was a great match.
John Gallagher was an Englishman playing for New Zealand with wonderful attacking prowess, Manassa Qoro of Fiji dropped a goal against Italy and he was a flank, Kennedy Tsimba of Zimbabwe, invited as Africa's representatives, was a surprise package and scored a try against Romania with a spectacular dive.
Huw Richards of Wales and David Codey of Australia have dubious distinction of being sent off. Richards was sent off for punching Gary Whetton in a semifinal which means that he will forever be the first player sent off in a World Cup. Richards may have been first but Codey was quicker. In the unhappy third-place play-off, he was warned and sent off in the first five minutes against Wales.
Then there was the happy face of David Kirk who first received the World Cup as the winning captain, this time from Albert Ferasse, the chairman of the IRB.
And then there was Michael Jones, quiet, circumspect, guitar-strumming, athletic, religiously convinced Michael Jones, named the Player of the Tournament – ahead of Gavin Hastings, Robert Jones and John Kirwan. He scored the first try of the first World Cup and the first try in the first Final of a World Cup, and he did it a year after making his debut for Western Samoa in days when eligibility was different. He did not play in two of the matches because they were on a Sunday, the second the semifinal against Wales, but when he did play he was chosen as the best player at the tournament.
Five coaches – three New Zealanders, Alan Jones of Australia and Jacques Fouroux of France chose a team of the tournament: John Gallagher (New Zealand), John Kirwan (New Zealand), Philippe Sella (France), Marcello Cuttita (Italy), Brett Papworth (Australia), Grant Fox (New Zealand), Nick Farr-Jones (Australia), Wayne Shelford (New Zealand), Michael Jones (New Zealand), Gary Whetton (New Zealand), Alain Lorieux (France), Alan Whetton (New Zealand), Steve McDowell (New Zealand), Sean Fitzpatrick (New Zealand), Jean-Pierre Garuet (France). There may have been some bias!
The eight quarterfinalists were Australia, England, Fiji, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales. The semifinalists were Australia, France, New Zealand and Wales. The finalists were France and New Zealand. The winners were New Zealand.
It is possible to make a case that claims that, at least for the first six World Cups, that favourites do not win.
In 1987 the Wallabies were favourites. In the three season leading up to the World Cup they had beaten England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Argentina and New Zealand, winning a series in New Zealand. At the time rugby in New Zealand was in some disarray after the cancelled tour to South Africa in 1985 and the New Zealand Cavaliers' tour in 1986. But they won the World Cup easily.
The New Zealand results were
New Zealand vs Italy: 70-6
New Zealand vs Fiji: 74-13
New Zealand vs Argentina: 46-15
New Zealand vs Scotland: 30-3
New Zealand vs Wales: 49-6
New Zealand vs France: 29-9
The All Blacks were in no trouble. They scored 43 tries and had four scored against them.
But the match of the first World Cup was undoubtedly that between France and Australia at Concord Oval in Sydney. The Wallabies scored first and led 9-6 at half-time. With seven minutes to play they led a narrow 24-21 but looked the stronger side. But the French attacked, Anthony Herbert was penalised for a late tackle and Didier Cambérabéro made it 24-all. With two minutes to go David Campese, who played the whole tournament with a hairline fracture to a foot, failed under a high ball and France raced on the attack. It went through 11 pairs of hands till Serge Blanco forced his way over in the left corner with Tommy Lawton diving at his legs.
After it was over Kendall-Carpenter was asked if the tournament had been a bit hollow without the Springboks. He was indignant at such a suggestion.