Ranking the Top 20 Nations in the History of the World Cup

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2014

Ranking the Top 20 Nations in the History of the World Cup

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    The 2015 Rugby World Cup will be the eighth instalment of a competition that began with 16 teams in New Zealand and Australia back in 1987.

    The game has evolved exponentially since the day David Kirk lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, and so has the tournament—growing from 16 to 20 teams, with changing formats and scoring systems along the way.

    This ranking uncovers who has taken advantage of each World Cup format and who has struggled. Points amassed in group stages according to the rules of each tournament.

    Thereafter, in knockout play, this ranking applies the same point-accumulating rules to each round as was used in the pool stages to come up with the total points won by each country.

    Here is a breakdown of how each tournament was scored:

     

    New Zealand & Australia 1987

    Two points for a win, one point for a draw and 0 points for playing

     

    England 1991

    Three points for a win, two points for a draw and one point for playing

     

    South Africa 1995

    Three points for a win, two points for a draw and one point for playing

     

    Wales 1999

    Three points for a win, two points for a draw and one point for playing

     

    Australia 2003

    Four points for a win; two points for a draw; 0 points for a loss before possible bonus points; one bonus point for scoring four or more tries, regardless of the final score; and one bonus point for a loss by seven points or fewer

     

    France 2007

    Four points for a win, two points for a draw, 0 points for a loss before possible bonus points, one bonus point for scoring four or more tries, regardless of the final score; and one bonus point for a loss by seven points or fewer

     

    New Zealand 2011

    Four points for a win; two points for a draw; 0 points for a loss before possible bonus points; one bonus point for scoring four or more tries, regardless of the final score; and one bonus point for a loss by seven points or fewer

20. Zimbabwe

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    Russell Cheyne/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 0
    • 1991: 3

     

    Total points: 3

    Zimbabwe were invited as the only African team to contest the inaugural tournament in 1987 in South Africa's enforced absence.

    Their only other tournament came four years later in England, where they again failed to register a win. Since then, they have lost out on qualification to the likes of Namibia and the Ivory Coast from the African section.

19. Namibia

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    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1999: 3
    • 2003: 0
    • 2007: 0
    • 2011: 0

     

    Total points: 3

    Namibia's four appearances at the World Cup have not yet yielded a single victory, but they did help to introduce us to one of the game's more colourful characters.

    Schalk van der Merwe, who played on the flank in the 2003 tournament, spent his time away from the game working with lions and other big game, and regaled punters with the tales from his exploits with the big cats, as the Telegraph's Brendan Gallagher discovered:

    On one occasion his sister's pet baboon was seized by a hungry lion and he was forced to jump into the cage in an attempt to rescue it.

    "I started trying to pull the baboon out of the lion's mouth," Van der Merwe, 29, recalls. "It didn't work. So I hit the lion in the face with my fist, but it just closed its eyes. So I butted it.

    "After a while I hit the lion over the head with a rock and I got the baboon out.

18. Georgia

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    Natacha Pisarenko

    Tournament breakdown

    • 2003: 0
    • 2007: 5
    • 2011: 4

     

    Total points: 9

    The Lelos made their World Cup debut in 2003 in Australia, and recorded their first win four years later with a 30-0 defeat of Namibia.

    They were drawn in England’s pool in 2011 and gave as good as they got against the big three of England, Scotland and Argentina before beating Romania.

    With the core of their squad based in France and a grisly pack of forwards, Georgia are no mugs on the world stage.

17. Japan

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    Themba Hadebe

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 0
    • 1991: 5
    • 1995: 3
    • 1999: 3
    • 2003: 0
    • 2007: 3
    • 2011: 2

     

    Total points: 16

    The hosts of the 2019 tournament have been ever present in the tournament.

    Their solitary win came over Zimbabwe in 1991, though they also have consecutive draws against Canada on their record from the 2007 and 2011 competitions.

    Unfortunately for the Brave Blossoms, they were on the wrong end of the largest-ever defeat in a World Cup when they were pummeled 145-17 by New Zealand in 1995—with full-back Marc Ellis bagging a tournament-record six tries.

16. USA

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    MARK BAKER

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 2
    • 1991: 3
    • 1995: 0
    • 1999: 3
    • 2003: 6
    • 2007: 1
    • 2011: 4

     

    Total points: 19

    The Eagles have played in six of the seven tournaments to date, and were the only side to score a try against eventual winners Australia in 1999.

    They failed to win any of their pool games that year and suffered a narrow 25-27 loss to Romania. Having beaten Japan in 1987, they did so again in their 2003 pool to record just their second tournament win.

    In 2007, they were beaten in all their pool games but at least walked away with the try of the year thanks to Takudzwa Ngwenya’s scorching run that left Bryan Habana eating his dust. In 2011, they notched up World Cup win No. 3 with victory over Russia.

15. Romania

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 2
    • 1991: 5
    • 1995: 3
    • 1999: 5
    • 2003: 5
    • 2007: 5
    • 2011: 0

     

    Total points: 25

    We will never know how good Romania could have been had the revolution of the late '80s not interrupted their progress.

    Andy Bull of the Guardian tells the story here, and he suggests it may well have been the Oaks, not Italy, who should have been the addition to the Five Nations in 2000.

    In World Cups, theirs is a minnow’s tale.

14. Tonga

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    Warren Little/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 0
    • 1995: 5
    • 1999: 5
    • 2003: 1
    • 2007: 9
    • 2011: 9

     

    Total points: 29

    The Tongans have never covered themselves in glory at World Cups. In 1999, prop Ngalu Taufo'ou put a bruising unprovoked forearm smash in on England’s Richard Hill and was promptly dismissed, leaving England to rack up a whopping score.

    They also had a ton put on them by the All Blacks that year. In 2007, they hit the headlines for the wrong reasons again when bookmaker Paddy Power encouraged centre Epi Taione to change is name to that of the turf accountant by deed pole, which went down like a lead balloon with the organisers.

    They then cajoled the team to dye their hair green ahead of their clash with England, another move that rankled the officials and resulted in the players hurriedly washing the dye out on their train to Paris before all wearing hats or t-shirts on their heads to cover up the remaining green as they trained at the Parc des Princes ahead of the game.

13. Canada

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 2
    • 1991: 8
    • 1995: 5
    • 1999: 5
    • 2003: 5
    • 2007: 2
    • 2011: 6

     

    Total points: 33

    If you’re looking for memorable Canadian moments in Rugby World Cups, the likelihood is you won't search for long before the Battle of Boet Erasmus comes up.

    An ill-tempered group match against hosts South Africa in 1995 saw fists fly and red cards waved to two Canadians and one South African.

    That fracas aside, the Maple Leafs have struggled to make an impact on the tournament’s latter stages but have consistently qualified for the big show.

12. Italy

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    Rob Griffith

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 2
    • 1991: 5
    • 1995: 5
    • 1999: 3
    • 2003: 8
    • 2007: 9
    • 2011: 10

    Total points: 43

    Italy have never made it out of the pool stages of the tournament despite their ever-present attendance record.

    Their wins have all come against lower ranked opposition including the USA, Fiji, Russia, Canada and Argentina.

    The Italian Federation was overlooked in its bid to host either the 2015 or 2019 World Cups, which seems a bit of a shame given attempts to grow the sport there.

11. Fiji

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    Francois Mori

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 2
    • 1991: 3
    • 1995: 0
    • 1999: 8
    • 2003: 10
    • 2007: 15
    • 2011: 5

     

    Total points: 43

    Fiji put Wales out in 2007 to set up a quarter-final clash with South Africa, who they had on the ropes at one stage, before the Springboks rallied to progress.

    The administrative mess currently engulfing the Fijian Union suggests they won't have an awful lot to offer in 2015.

10. Samoa

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    Alastair Grant

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1991: 8
    • 1995: 8
    • 1999: 8
    • 2003: 10
    • 2007: 5
    • 2011: 10

     

    Total points: 49

    The Samoans have twice upset the Welsh applecart in World Cups, but have otherwise disappointed.

    In 2007 a team laced with the power of the Tuilagi brothers looked full of promise but fell in the group stages, losing to South Africa, England and even Tonga.

9. Ireland

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    Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 4
    • 1991: 8
    • 1995: 8
    • 1999: 8
    • 2003: 15
    • 2007: 9
    • 2011: 17

     

    Total points: 69

    The Irish have never been beyond the quarter-finals, twice falling to Argentina before that stage and most recently to Wales.

    In the 2011 tournament they had done the hard work by beating Australia in their group to top the section for the first time, but ran into a rapidly improving Welsh side who would not be denied.

    Ireland’s route beyond the last eight looks a little smoother in 2015, especially if they overcome France in what is certain to feel like a home game in the Millennium Stadium.

8. Argentina

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 2
    • 1991: 3
    • 1995: 3
    • 1999: 11
    • 2003: 11
    • 2007: 27
    • 2011: 14

     

    Total points: 71

    The Pumas were the people’s choice to go all the way in 2007 after they captured the world’s imagination with their buccaneering yet brutal style. As it was, they had to settle for third place.

    In 1999, they pulled off a shock with the defeat of Ireland in the play-off round which remains their other World Cup highlight to date.

7. Scotland

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    Russell Cheyne/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 5
    • 1991: 14
    • 1995: 8
    • 1999: 8
    • 2003: 14
    • 2007: 15
    • 2011: 11

     

    Total points: 75

    No Scottish fan will ever forget the missed penalty by Gavin Hastings that cost them a place in the 1991 final.

    Hastings' semi-final miss, against England of all teams, remains the closest they have come to a final appearance.

    The draw has seldom been kind to Scotland, with two quarter-finals against New Zealand bringing their efforts in 1995 and 1999 to an end.

6. Wales

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    Themba Hadebe

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 10
    • 1991: 5
    • 1995: 5
    • 1999: 8
    • 2003: 14
    • 2007: 12
    • 2011: 21

     

    Total points: 75

    Two semi-finals punctuate some disastrous tournaments for the Welsh, who have suffered shock World Cup defeats to Samoa, twice, and to Fiji in 2007.

    Their last campaign came to an agonising end at the semi-final stage, when skipper Sam Warburton saw red and they went down to France by a single point.

5. South Africa

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    Ross Setford

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1995: 18
    • 1999: 16
    • 2003: 15
    • 2007: 35
    • 2011: 19

     

    Total points: 103

    The big question about the Springboks is where would they be in this list if they had competed in the first two tournaments?

    The country was in the sporting wilderness in the '80s and early '90s as the Apartheid regime caused the rest of the sporting world—barring a few rebel tours—to turn its back on South Africa.

    They arrived back on the scene with a bang in 1995, winning the tournament in their own country and claiming the prize again in 2007.

4. England

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    MARK BAKER

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 4
    • 1991: 14
    • 1995: 14
    • 1999: 11
    • 2003: 31
    • 2007: 22
    • 2011: 19

     

    Total points: 115

    Unsurprisingly, England’s 2003 triumph was their most profitable tournament, with 31 points yielded in total, though their run to the final four years later also helped their cause in this league table.

    On home soil next year, Stuart Lancaster's developing side is expected to mount a serious challenge.

    But with both Wales and Australia in their pool, they will need to be at their best right from the word go to ensure safe passage through to the knockout rounds.

    Bonus points for tries may be hard to come by in their section.

3. France

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    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 9
    • 1991: 10
    • 1995: 16
    • 1999: 16
    • 2003: 25
    • 2007: 20
    • 2011: 20

     

    Total points: 116

    Les Bleus are the nearly men of the Rugby World Cup, with three final defeats and two semi-final exits. They came closest to the big prize in the most recent tournament, when they lost 8-7 to New Zealand in Auckland.

    Beaten in consecutive semi-finals by England, the second of which came in their home tournament in 2007, they have only ever beaten their old enemy in World Cup rugby in a third-place play-off.

2. Australia

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    ADAM BUTLER

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 8
    • 1991: 18
    • 1995: 8
    • 1999: 18
    • 2003: 27
    • 2007: 21
    • 2011: 23

     

    Total points: 123

    The Wallabies wash up as the second most-successful team in the tournament’s history, with two titles and one runner’s up spot.

    Their highest World Cup point was perhaps 1999 when they crushed France in the final to claim their second Webb Ellis Cup—the first to be handed out in the professional era.

1. New Zealand

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    Christophe Ena

    Tournament breakdown

    • 1987: 12
    • 1991: 16
    • 1995: 16
    • 1999: 13
    • 2003: 29
    • 2007: 21
    • 2011: 32

     

    Total: 139 points

    The All Blacks won the 1987 tournament and gathered the most points in the process, but they really cashed in when four-try bonus points were introduced in 2003—racking up some huge scores in their pool stages to claim the maximum rewards.

    Those bonus points helped them to the highest total, despite exits in the quarter- and semi-final stages in 1991, 1999, 2003 and 2007.