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Top five greatest Rugby World Cup matches

Sports Mole picks out five of the Rugby World Cup's greatest ever matches ahead of the latest instalment this autumn.

The countdown to this autumn's Rugby World Cup on home soil continues, with each side upping their preparations ahead of the showpiece event.

Having already looked back at the best moments and the finest players to have graced the biggest stage of them all, Sports Mole now picks out the five greatest matches from across the competition's 28-year history.


5. Wales 34-38 Fiji (2007)

Nine tries scored in all, this was one of those games that kept the audience gripped throughout. For the neutral it was excitement at its finest; for Wales supporters, an occasion to truly forget.

The all-important final try came late on through Graham Dewes, who crossed over to dump the Red Dragons out of the tournament and set up a quarter-final meeting against South Africa for his side.

Right from the off the match remained open, but it was ultimately the outsiders who benefited as some big hits and strong running saw them prevail against Wales for the first time in seven attempts. Could a similar shock be on the cards at the Millennium Stadium in October?


4. France 30-24 Australia (1987)

The semi-final of the first ever World Cup, and still one of the greatest of the lot. Australia and New Zealand were backed by pretty much everyone to contest the Sydney showdown, yet it was Northern Hemisphere outsiders France who edged out the joint-hosts to progress through.

Both sides shared the lead throughout the highly-entertaining affair, which only added to the grand spectacle of things. The big moment came late on when Serge Blanco showed the legs to burst into the corner to touch down, just out of the reach of Wallaby hooker Tommy Lawton.

While the World Cup had hardly been a thriller up until that point, this match truly brought the tournament to life, although home supporters were left stunned as the French held on to secure a slender victory. A meeting with New Zealand proved to be one match too far, though, as the All Blacks reigned supreme in 1987.


3. New Zealand 70-6 Italy (1987)

What a way to kick things off. New Zealand, favourites to brush aside all before them en route to lifting the trophy, began their campaign with a resounding win over Italy.

True to the form book, the All Blacks stormed past the European minnows to the delight of the home crowd. John Kirwan, who would go on to manage the Italians, epitomised the true gulf in quality by charging the length of the field to cross over in some style.

Before the days of the Six Nations, Italy were true minnows heading into the inaugural World Cup, which showed throughout against a truly rampant New Zealand side. It may have been a one-sided affair, but sometimes you have to sit back and admire the best as they go about their work.


2. Australia 17-20 England (2003)

A tight match between two teams boasting real quality? Check. A host nation in the final to keep supporters engaged? Check. An upset which sent shockwaves right through the game? Check. All this fixture required was a late winner...

Of course, the 2003 final in Sydney will be best remembered for Jonny Wilkinson's nerves of steel in extra time, as he split the sticks to help England become the first Northern Hemisphere side to triumph in the competition.

While the aforementioned quality may not have been on display throughout the initial 80 minutes, it remained a truly engrossing encounter which had millions around the planet tuning in. That it ended the way it did only added to its longevity in any list of this sort.


1. France 43-31 New Zealand (1999)

With the likes of Jonah Lomu, Zinzan Brooke and Andrew Mehrtens all in fine form, the outcome of this final-four clash looked to be heading the same way as the 1987 final.

New Zealand simply do not allow teams to perform upsets on the biggest stage, so it was hardly surprising to see them rush into a 24-10 advantage at one point. But then something extraordinary happened, as Les Bleus scored 33 points without response to turn the game on its head completely.

Twickenham - the world, even - watched on in disbelief as the majestic All Blacks crumbled. Christophe Lamaison's imperious kicking set France on their way to the most incredible of World Cup semi-final triumphs at the expense of a depleted Kiwis side. Just like 12 years beforehand, however - and indeed 12 years on in 2011 - the European outfit just could not get over the line at the last hurdle.


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England's Jonny Wilkinson kicks the winning drop goal against Australia during the final of the World Cup on November 22, 2003
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