Most Successful Nations in the Rugby World Cup

The 2019 Rugby World Cup is now just a distant memory and the 2023 Rugby World Cup is fast approaching. In fact, it’s now less than 18 months until the 10th edition of the championship and as such, it seems fitting that we look back at previous tournaments.

To get you ready for World Cup season, we’ve taken a deep dive back into the rugby archives to catalogue the winning teams. From the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 to the most recent in 2019, here are the most successful nations of the World Cup.

The History of the Rugby World Cup

The Early Years

The foundations of the Rugby World Cup began in 1985 when a proposal was passed to start the competition. The first tournament took place two years later in 1987 and hosted 16 different nations in New Zealand and Australia. In the final, Les Blues faced the All Blacks, with New Zealand triumphing over France in a 29-9 victory.

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The tournament grew exponentially during the next two Rugby World Cups. In 1991, games were also held in Europe including France, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. While in 1995, South Africa entered the championship after the end of apartheid, with the nation making history, dominating the tournament and claiming the title.


Fast forward to 2007 when South Africa beat England in a 15-6 victory. Then in 2011, it was the All Blacks who took the title, after claiming an 8-7 win against France. What’s more, the team held their status in 2015, defeating Australia with a score of 34-17.

In the most recent 2019 Rugby World Cup, South Africa dominated once again. The team faced New Zealand in their opening match and lost to the All Blacks, before subsequently beating England in the final with a score of 32-12. The SA team made Rugby World Cup news as the first ever team to win the Rugby World Cup after losing a match during the tournament.

The Most Successful Nations

When it comes to the most successful nation, there are not one but two clear winners. In the nine Rugby World Cups that have taken place since 1987, both New Zealand and South Africa have been crowned champion three times apiece. However, New Zealand were also the runners up in 1995, making them the most successful Rugby World Cup nation of all time.

As of 2022, the champions, runners up and third place teams stand thus:

Rugby World Cup Team Winner Runner Up Third Place
New Zealand 1987, 2011, 2015 1995 1991, 2003, 2019
South Africa 1995, 2007, 2019 1999, 2015
Australia 1991, 1999 2003, 2015 2011
England 2003 1991, 2007, 2019
France 1987, 1999, 2011 1995
Wales 1987
Argentina 2007

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