Wales plays host to 1999 Rugby World Cup

WALES, a hotbed of the oval-ball game, won the right to host the Rugby Union World Cup (Cwpan Rygbi’r Byd) in 1999. The centrepiece venue for the tournament was the Millennium Stadium, built on the site of the old National Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park at a cost of £126 million from Lottery money and private investment.

Twenty nations came to compete in 41 matches across 37 days, from October 1 to November 6 and it was the Wallabies of Australia who ended up victorious, with France runners-up and South Africa third.

Tournament top scorer was Argentina’s Gonzalo Quesada, with a haul of 102 points, but it was New Zealand’s wing powerhouse Jonah Lomu who really caught the eye with his record eight tries for the All Blacks.

The 1999 Rugby World Cup – the fourth of these quadrennial international rugby union championships – was the first to be held in the sport’s new professional era.

Although the majority of matches were played outside Wales (shared between England, France, Scotland and Ireland) the opening ceremony, the first match and the final were all held in Cardiff. Other venues in Wales were the Racecourse Ground, home of Wrexham AFC, and Llanelli RFC’s Stradey Park.

Wales qualified automatically as hosts and the tournament began with the opening ceremony in the newly-built Millennium Stadium, followed by Wales beating Argentina 23–18, Colin Charvis scoring the first try of the tournament.

Scott Gibbs on the charge for Wales against Argentina (Picture credit: Welsh Rugby Union)

Wales went on to convincingly defeat Japan 64-15, but lost 31-38 to Samoa on their way to topping Pool D of the qualifying round.

In the quarter-finals, England, hosts Wales – beaten 24-9 by eventual winners Australia – and Scotland were all knocked out, and France, who beat Argentina, were the only team left from the Northern Hemisphere.

The semi-finals, which were both played at Twickenham, produced two of the most dramatic matches of the tournament, with Australia beating South Africa 27–21 in extra-time, after normal time ended with the scores locked at 18-18.

The second semi-final between favourites New Zealand and underdogs France was an all-time classic, as France overturned a 24–10 half-time deficit to win 43–31 and reach their second World Cup final.

France and Australia met at the Millennium Stadium on November 6, 1999, with Australia winning 35–12 to become the first team to win the Webb Ellis Cup twice. The trophy was presented by Queen Elizabeth II to Australian captain John Eales.