Game Changers: Iconic Matches That Made Rugby History

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NEW YORK, NY  – The 200th anniversary of the creation of rugby will be celebrated next year. While the rules have become more complicated, tactics have been established and the style of play has evolved since those earliest days, the heart of the game remains the same.

Rugby doesn’t have the same level of visibility and funding as the major sports leagues in the United States, which is unfortunate since it can be a much more enjoyable game to watch than most of the Big Four. Likewise, betting on rugby isn’t as common in the United States as betting on sports such as football and basketball is.

Sports betting in the United States is still a growing industry. Thanks to the range of online sportsbooks, it’s easy to find odds on all the top rugby matches that you’re interested in betting on. Hopefully, the rise of sports betting in America will introduce more Americans to sports outside of the top four leagues.

For those who are already fans, it’s no shock that there are some rugby matches that stand out from all the rest. These game changing events have become iconic in the sport. Here are our picks for the three matches that have made rugby history.

Ireland vs New Zealand, 2022

It might still be too early to call a match that happened in 2022 iconic or history-making; however, it’s also impossible to ignore how big of an impact these matches had on the rugby world. In the last two decades, the New Zealand All Blacks have created a reputation for themselves as the toughest team in the world. They routinely crush international teams who challenge them and their rise has corresponded with a bit of a collapse among the teams of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

That was why Ireland’s win over New Zealand in July of this year is historic. Ireland won two of the three matches in the series held in New Zealand, winning the entire series. This is the first time that has happened since Ireland first played against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil in 1976. It’s also the first time in the century the two teams have been playing each other that Ireland has won a series. It was a monumental event.

Australia vs New Zealand, 1991

New Zealand plays a part in our next iconic match as well. The 1991 Rugby World Cup was the second year the tournament was being held. France had come second the year before and the United Kingdom was hosting, but that didn’t necessarily mean that a team from the Northern Hemisphere was expected to win. Australia and New Zealand were both looking good, so them facing off in the semifinal was expected to be a dramatic match.

Australia, with all-time great winger David Campese leading the try scoring and captain Nick Farr-Jones directing play, were unstoppable on the field. What makes this match truly historic is that it showed players and fans from Europe a whole new style of rugby. Both the Australian and New Zealand teams combined the power and physicality expected with skill and speed that shocked and inspired the other players.

This match, and the 1991 World Cup in general, helped to develop the rugby we see played today.

1987 Rugby World Cup

The 1987 Rugby World Cup was the first tournament of its kind and it helped to solidify rugby as a sport with international appeal and support. Its success meant that international rugby was a viable sport that could grow and develop beyond its traditional strongholds in the countries of the Commonwealth.

The 16 teams that participated were invited by the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) since this was the inaugural event and no qualifying process had been established. There was some contention surrounding which teams were invited, South Africa was excluded due to the apartheid sporting boycott, and the USSR declined to participate.

The World Cup was held at 11 stadiums across New Zealand and Australia. Some of the matches showed that the rugby programs in the IRFB countries were far more developed than those of other countries — England’s 60-7 win over Japan and France’s 70-12 defeat of Zimbabwe stand out in particular. Of the non-IRFB countries, only Fiji made it to the quarter finals.

Despite how uneven some of the play was, the first Rugby World Cup was a massive success and helped create the sport of rugby as we know it today.


Check out this week’s MLR Weekly.




EXCLUSIVE with Japan Rugby League One Chairman Genichi Tamatsuka and COO Hajime Shoji.

Topics include:
Special Sauce for Success
-A global rugby competition for professional clubs
Rugby World Cup expectations
Lessons Major League Rugby can learn from the JRLO
JRLO vs MLR All-Star Game or Championship
-Future Rugby World Club back in Japan
-Need for a global rugby calendar



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About Alan Smithee 56 Articles
Alan Smithee handles rugby stories from all corners of the globe, at times with unpopular opinions.