The 1999 Rugby World Cup was the fourth Rugby World Cup, the quadrennial international rugby union championship. It was principally hosted by Wales, and was won by Australia. This was the first Rugby World Cup to be held in the sport's professional era.
Although the majority of matches were played outside Wales (shared between England, France, Scotland and Ireland) the opening ceremony, the first match and the final were held in Cardiff.
Four automatic qualification places were available for the 1999 tournament; Wales qualified automatically as hosts, and the other three places went to the top three teams from the previous World Cup in 1995 – champions (South Africa), runners-up (New Zealand), and third-placed (France). Qualification for the final 16 places took place between 63 other nations.
The tournament was expanded to 20 teams (from 16), divided into five pools of four teams, a scenario that necessitated a quarter-final play-off round involving the five runners-up and best third-placed team to decide who would join the pool winners in the last eight. The 1999 tournament saw the introduction of a repechage, effectively a second chance for teams that had finished runners-up in each qualifying zone. Uruguay and Tonga were the first nations to profit from the repechage, and took their places alongside fellow qualifiers Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Argentina, Fiji, Samoa, Romania, Canada, Namibia, Japan, Spain and the United States.
The tournament began with the opening ceremony in the newly-built Millennium Stadium, with Wales beating Argentina 23–18, and Colin Charvis scoring the first try of the tournament. Australia won the tournament, becoming the first nation to do so twice and also to date the only team ever to win after having to qualify for the tournament, with a 35–12 triumph over France, who were unable to repeat their semi-final victory over pre-tournament favourites New Zealand.
The overall attendance for the tournament was 1.75 million.
The following 20 teams, shown by region, qualified for the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Of the 20 teams, only four of those places were automatically allocated and did not have to play any qualification matches. These went to the champions, runners-up and the third-placed nations at the 1995 and the tournament host, Wales. A record 65 nations from five continents were therefore involved in the qualification process designed to fill the remaining 16 spots.
Wales won the right to host the World Cup in 1999. The centrepiece venue for the tournament was the Millennium Stadium, built on the site of the old National Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park at a cost of £126 million from Lottery money and private investment. Other venues in Wales were the Racecourse Ground and Stradey Park. An agreement was reached so that the other unions in the Five Nations Championship (England, France, Ireland and Scotland) also hosted matches.
Venues in England included Twickenham and Welford Road, rugby union venues, as well as Ashton Gate in Bristol and the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield, which normally host football. Scottish venues included Murrayfield Stadium, the home of the Scottish Rugby Union ; Hampden Park, the home of the Scottish Football Association ; and the smallest venue in the 1999 tournament, Netherdale, in Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders. Venues in Ireland included Lansdowne Road, the traditional home of the Irish Rugby Football Union, Ravenhill and Thomond Park. France used five venues, the most of any nation, including the French national stadium, Stade de France, which hosted the final of both the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
With the expansion of the Rugby World Cup from 16 to 20 teams an unusual and complex format was used with the teams split into five pools of four teams with each team playing each other in their pool once.Pool A was played in Scotland
Pool B was played in England
Pool C was played in France
Pool D was played in the principal host nation Wales
Pool E was played in Ireland with matches played in both the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland
The points system that was used in the pool stage was unchanged from both 1991 and 1995:3 points for a win
2 points for a draw
1 point for playing
The five pool winners qualified automatically to the quarter-finals. The five pool runners-up and the best third-placed side qualified for the quarter-final play-offs.
The five pool runners-up and the best third-placed team from the pool stage (which was Argentina) contested the quarter-final play-offs in three one-off matches that decided the remaining three places in the quarter-finals, with the losers being eliminated. The unusual format meant that two pool winners in the quarter-finals would have to play each other. From the quarter-final stage it became a simple knockout tournament. The semi-final losers played off for third place. The draw and format for the knock-out stage was set as follows.
Quarter-final play-offs drawMatch H: Pool B runner-up v Pool C runner-up
Match G: Pool A runner-up v Pool D runner-up
Match F: Pool E runner-up v Best third-placed team
Quarter-finals drawMatch M: Pool D winners v Pool E winners
Match J: Pool A winners v Play-off H winners
Match L: Pool C winners v Play-off F winners
Match K: Pool B winners v Play-off G winners
Semi-finals drawMatch J winners v Match M winners
Match L winners v Match K winners
A total of 41 matches (30 pool stage and 11 knock-out) were played throughout the tournament over 35 days from 1 October 1999 to 6 November 1999.
The tournament began on 1 October 1999 in the newly built Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, with Wales beating Argentina in a hard fought game 23–18 to get their campaign off to a positive start. The Pool stage of the tournament played out as was widely expected with the Tri Nations teams of New Zealand (who inflected a massive 101–3 win against Italy at the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield), South Africa and Australia all winning their pools easily without losing a single game. For the then Five Nations Championship teams who all played their pool matches in their own countries it was a case of mixed fortunes with France winning their pool without losing a game. Host Wales also won their pool, though they suffered 31–38 defeat at the hands of Samoa in front of a home crowd at the Millennium Stadium. However, as expected England, Ireland and Scotland all finished second in their pools and were forced to try to qualify for the quarter-finals via the play-offs alongside fellow runners-up Samoa and Fiji, and Argentina as the best third placed side from all five pools.
The quarter-final play-offs were three one-off knock-out matches between the runners-up of each pool and the best third-placed side from all five pools to decide the remaining three places in the quarter-finals. The matches were played in mid-week between the completion of the pool stage and the start of the quarter-finals. The matches produced fairly easy wins for England, beating Fiji 45–24, and also for Scotland, beating Samoa 35–20. However, the final match produced the shock of the round where Argentina upset Ireland 28–24 in Lens.
The winners from the quarter-final play-offs joined the pool winners (who unlike their counterparts had enjoyed a week long rest) in the quarter-finals, with England, hosts Wales and Scotland all being knocked out, and with France (who beat Argentina in their quarter-final) being the only team left from the Northern Hemisphere. The semi-finals, which were both played at Twickenham, produced two of the closest matches of the tournament, with Australia beating South Africa 27–21 in extra-time after normal time ended with the scores locked at 21–21. The second semi-final between favourites New Zealand and underdogs France was an all-time classic, as France overturned a 24–10 half-time deficit to win 43–31 and reach their second World Cup final. France and Australia met at the Millennium Stadium on 6 November 1999 with Australia overcoming France 35–12 to become the first team to win the Webb Ellis Cup twice. The Cup was presented by HM Queen Elizabeth II to Australian captain John Eales.
The overall attendance for the tournament was 1.75 million.
British television rights holders ITV acted as the host broadcaster for the tournament, with coverage shown in 209 countries, to an audience of 3.1 billion viewers. In Australia, the event was broadcast by Seven Network.