Jonah Lomu has scored more tries on the Rugby World Cup stage than any other player. Jonah Lomu has scored more tries on the Rugby World Cup stage than any other player. CREDIT: Rugby World Cup 2015

Rugby World Cup history in numbers

Friday 21 December 2012, 2:52PM
By Rugby World Cup 2015

Since its inception back in 1987, Rugby World Cup matches have been hosted in eight countries (to become nine in 2019 when Japan host the showpiece tournament) and been contested by 25 teams.

Here, to celebrate reaching the 1,000 days to go milestone on the road to England 2015, we delve further into the numbers behind the tournament – from tries scored, to goals dropped and matches won.
Which teams and players have troubled the abacus more than any others?

Been there, done that

RWC 1987 and 2011 winners New Zealand and three-time runners-up France have both played a record 43 matches in the tournament’s history. Australia (41) and England (40) are next in line.

England prop Jason Leonard has played more Rugby World Cup matches than any other player, turning out 22 times between 1991 and 2003. George Gregan, the most-capped player in Test history, finished his career two short of Leonard’s mark, with both players locked together on 16 wins.

Samoa wing Brian Lima – The Chiropractor to opposing players unfortunate enough to stray across his path – played at a record five Rugby World Cups between 1991 and 2007.

Winning habits

New Zealand have won the most Rugby World Cup matches, with their 37 victories putting them four clear of Australia.

The Wallabies hold the record for the biggest winning margin in the tournament’s history, though, having beaten Namibia 142-0 at Rugby World Cup 2003. Their triumph eclipsed the previous record – the All Blacks’ 145-17 victory over Japan in 1995 – in terms of point differential and tries scored.

Three teams have racked up a century of points in a Rugby World Cup match, with England joining New Zealand and Australia to complete the trio. The All Blacks have achieved the feat three times, England twice and Australia once.

Scoring for fun

England fly half Jonny Wilkinson has more Rugby World Cup points than any other player, with 277 from 19 matches. He crossed for one try, kicked 58 penalties, 28 conversions and 14 drop goals between 1999 and 2011.

New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu holds the record for most Rugby World Cup tries with 15. The giant wing played 11 matches on the sport’s greatest stage, one more than his nearest rival and fellow All Black Doug Howlett, who managed 13 tries.

The record for most points in a single match belongs to New Zealand’s Simon Culhane, who scored 45 against Japan at Rugby World Cup 1995. The fly half bagged a try and kicked 20 conversions as the All Blacks racked up the 145-17 win.

That match was also notable for containing Marc Ellis’ six tries – the most by a player in a single Rugby World Cup match. A future rugby league international, Ellis’ efforts just shade Chris Latham’s five tries against Namibia in 2003.

South Africa fly half Jannie de Beer holds the record for most drop goals in a match, with his five against England in the quarter finals of Rugby World Cup 1999 remaining a popular memory for Springbok supporters.

The first try at a Rugby World Cup was actually a penalty try, awarded to New Zealand after Italy captain Marzio Innocenti prevented a pushover score in the opening match in 1987.

The first player to score one was All Black legend Michael Jones, 30 minutes into the same contest. In converting the penalty try, New Zealand’s Grant Fox became the first player to score in the competition. Jones would also score the first try of RWC 1991.

The best defence

New Zealand can boast the best collective point differential in Rugby World Cup history, weighing in at +1,428 points from 43 matches. The All Blacks have scored 2,012 points – 589 more than the next highest, Australia – and conceded 584. That works out at an average of 46.79 points scored and 13.58 conceded per match.

Nine teams have been failed to score in a Rugby World Cup match – including Scotland, who have also held sides to nil on more occasions than any other country except South Africa (three apiece).

Struggling to make a mark

Namibia, who have played in four Rugby World Cups between 1999 and 2011, have played 15 matches but are still waiting to taste victory on the sport’s biggest stage.

The Welwitschias are not alone though as Portugal, Ivory Coast, Russia, Spain and Zimbabwe are also yet to register a Rugby World Cup victory.

Japan have notched just a single win in the tournament’s history, from 24 attempts. Their only victory came against Zimbabwe – 52-8 in Belfast – at Rugby World Cup 1991 and their winless run is now at 19 matches.

Hirotoki Onozawa has played more Rugby World Cup matches (12) than anyone else without a win. The Japan wing has drawn two matches though, giving him an edge over Namibia’s Hugo Horn, who has lost all 11 of his RWC matches.

To delve further into the statistical world of Rugby World Cup history, visit the interactive statistics page on