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Entertainment | 04 Aug 2015 | By Sun International

South Africa’s legacy of legends in Rugby World Cup history

With only a few short weeks to go until the Rugby World Cup 2015, retail outlets are bursting with green and gold jerseys in support of the South African team as they head off to England and Cardiff. Now is the time to brush up on Rugby World Cup history, and impress your friends with your RWC knowledge before the kick-off.

So where, and how, did the Rugby World Cup begin?

Let us take you on a journey of Rugby World Cup history: contested every four years, the first tournament was held in 1987 and co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. A total of 16 teams were invited to take part, however the number of teams participating have swelled to 20 since 1999, proving the popularity of the sport.

International governing body World Rugby administers the tournament and the winners are awarded the William Webb Ellis Cup. Popular legend has it that Rugby World Cup history was first made when William Webb Ellis invented the game by picking up the ball during a soccer match.

Did you know? Only three teams have held up the Webb Ellis trophy in victory twice: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The road to 1995, when SA made IRB Rugby World Cup history

During the apartheid era, we were excluded from the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991. In 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup, a mere 13 months after our first democratic elections.

The South African side was seeded ninth, well below Australia, who were the current champions at the time. Amazingly, our boys defeated not only Australia, but also Romania, Canada, Western Samoa and France which led to the point where they faced New Zealand in the final at Ellis Park.

An unforgettable moment in Rugby World Cup history was when a Boeing 747 roared over the stadium with the message “Good luck, Bokke” emblazoned underneath.

A fiercely contested match saw Captain Francois Pienaar playing with a calf strain into extra time with a final, glorious drop goal from Joel Stransky, sealing South Africa’s three-point victory.

In one of the most unifying moments in South African sport, then State President Nelson Mandela handed over the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar, wearing a No 6 rugby jersey. It was the stuff of legend and became immortalised in the movie Invictus, starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman.

The 2007 tournament and beyond

Jake White was at the helm when South Africa lifted the Webb Ellis Cup a second time in Paris in IRB World Cup Rugby history in 2007, prevailing over England with a final score of 15-6.

Looking forward, the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be hosted by England from 18 September to 1 November. It promises to the biggest Rugby World Cup to date with 2.45 million tickets on sale for the 13 confirmed match venues.

Most betting pundits are putting their money on New Zealand as the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup at the end of the tournament. However, we know our boys in green in gold will be fighting for glory for yet another chance to make IRB Rugby World Cup history.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be hosted by Japan.

A fun fact in IRB Rugby World Cup history

To date, the opening game of every World Cup has been started with the same whistle. Known as the Gil Evans whistle, it was first used by Welsh referee Gil Evans in the 1905 matches between England and New Zealand. The same whistle was blown by Albert E. Freethy in the 1924 Olympics final in Paris.

It has been housed in the New Zealand Rugby Museum since 16 April 1969, and was given by Stan Dean who acted as the chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union for many years as well as manager of the 1924/25 All Blacks.