The 2007 World Cup in France was a memorable tournament filled with stunning tries, unexpected victories and of course plenty of drama.
In the first game of the tournament Argentina stunned France winning 17-12 over the hosts. Argentina were the surprise package of the tournament playing scintillating rugby which saw the Pumas top group D unbeaten, leaving France, Ireland, Namibia and Georgia in their wake. The side included many legends of Argentina rugby – Agustin Pichot, Felipe Contepomi, Mario Ledesma, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, and Patricio Albacete to name a few. Argentina defeated Scotland 19 – 13 in the quarter-finals before eventually losing to South Africa in the semi-finals. However Argentina did have a second date with France in the 3rd place play-off and comfortable defeated the French 34-10 in Paris. This was Argentina’s most successful world cup, the country finished in 3rd place and established themselves as a force in world rugby.
2007 also saw the emergence of the pacific nations with Fiji and Tonga putting in strong performances. The Fijians were drawn in tough group including Australia and Wales with 3rd place their expected finish. Fiji played in their usual flamboyant style and proved everyone wrong qualifying for the quarter-finals. The Fijians defeated Japan, Canada and famously Wales in the final match of the pool. The match against Wales was a brilliant spectacle, the scoreboard swung back and forth between both teams with 9 tries being scored. Wales scored 5 of those but Fiji grabbed a decisive score in the 77th minute which decided the match. As a Welshman I can recall a 10-year-old me crying afterwards heartbroken at what had occurred. Yet in hindsight the match was one of the best in the tournament and Fiji were deserved winners. Fiji did have the unfavourable task of playing South Africa in the quarter finals but despite losing the match Fiji played the game of their lives. I will link a video to show this.
There is a brilliant documentary called ‘Pacific Warriors’ which follows Tonga as they prepare for the tournament. They didn’t have a training field to practise on due to a lack of money and had their training sessions in a public park. The team didn’t have a nutritionist so they apparently relied mostly on KFC to feed themselves before travelling to the competition. The Tongan squad included players who play in France, England and New Zealand, so the team had deal with a lack cohesion and understanding between players.
Tonga entered Group A with very little expected of them, they faced difficult matches against England, South Africa and Samoa. The Tongan’s had every reason to crumble and unravel at the seams yet they performed admirably. Despite failing to qualify from the group stages, 2007 was considered a success for Tonga. The country won 2 of their games and provided South Africa with an all mighty scare. South Africa narrowly defeated Tonga 30-25 a victory that seemed undeserved.
Tongan rugby is known for its physicality and aggression, a perfect example of this is number 8 Filau Maka. Before Tonga’s match against Samoa Nili Latu (Tonga’s Captain) recalled Maka head butting the wall repeatedly to get himself fired up and it apparently got his teammates fired up as well with Tonga winning the match 19-15. Tonga’s final match against England proved to be a step too far, the team started well yet they fell away allowing England to take control. Tonga did the last say though scoring the final try of the match with the score finishing 36-20 to England.
The All Blacks were of course favourites to win their second world cup and had to contend with the easiest group of the tournament. They smashed Italy, thrashed Portugal, thumped Scotland and pummeled Romania. New Zealand played France in the next round with the two countries having previous history in the tournament. In the 1999 world cup semi-finals an inspired French team overturned a 24-10 half-time deficit to stun the All Blacks in the second half beating them by 43-31 to progress to the final.
Before this match the French had played inconsistently throughout the tournament losing to Argentina yet they beat Ireland, Namibia and Georgia comfortably. New Zealand looked in imperious form, like an unstoppable freight train and history surely wasn’t going to repeat itself. The atmosphere in the Millennium Stadium was electric, the arena was bouncing was excitement and the game didn’t disappoint. The match will always be remembered for that Damien Traille pass to Frederick Michalak and how the All Blacks ‘choked’ in the second half. Lightning did strike twice and the All Blacks crashed out of the world cup losing 20-18. This was New Zealand’s worst ever result in the world cup and it was called “The end of the world” for All Blacks rugby.
France’s opponents in the semi-finals were England after they defeated Australia in the quarter-finals. England had a peculiar tournament with the team playing mediocre rugby throughout however they still managed to progress. England relied on the experience of Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Robinson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Phil Vickery to aid a pretty average looking team. The most memorable game in group A was England being thrashed 36-0 by South Africa however the English did qualify in 2nd place.
The semi-final was played at the beautiful Stade-De-France in Paris with all the expectation placed on the French. The English played with freedom and started the game brilliantly. Within 2 minutes Josh Lewsey (England’s full-back) jumped on a favorable bounce to sneak in at the corner giving England an early advantage. The French seemed to play within themselves intimated by all the pressure. The match was a scrappy one with Lewsey’s score being the only try of the match. Through the boot of Jonny Wilkinson England held on to win 14-9 and reach their second consecutive final.
The 2007 world cup was the first I watched as a rugby fan, I can still picture Takudzwa Ngwenya skinning Bryan Habana to score the try of the tournament. It was the tournament where I fell in love with Rugby and I look back fondly. France will once again host the world cup in 2023 and that tournament will have to be something special to live up to 2007. Who knows?
I would like to credit Ruddy Darter, World Rugby, Rugbyworldcup and Calvin Helms with the videos provided in this piece. I will link their channels below.