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Rugby World Cup moments: Kirwan try for New Zealand lights up first World Cup

The Rugby World Cup story started back in 1987, with the inaugural tournament one in which New Zealand flyer John Kirwan would emerge as a star.

In a tournament that was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia, the All Blacks produced some scintillating rugby on their way to winning the first-ever World Cup.

The Kiwis made a flying start to the tournament at Eden Park in Auckland in a game against Italy that would live long in the memory due to a solo try for the ages from Kirwan.

WhatRugby Union World Cup
WhenFriday 8th September - Saturday 28th October 2023
How to watchITV
OddsNew Zealand 5/2, France 3/1, South Africa 9/2, Ireland 5/1, Australia 10/1

A new age in rugby union

While the game was still amateur in those days, the first Rugby World Cup brought in a new exciting age for the 15-player code. 

The game would eventually go on to become professional in the mid-90s, but that would not have happened but for the success of the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand were one of the seven members of the International Rugby Football Board who were entered for the tournament. 

The All Blacks’ first opponents Italy were one of the nine invited teams, and the gulf in class between the two nations was evident soon after the first whistle.

Kirwan scores jaw-dropping solo effort

Italy were blown away in the first half in Auckland, as the All Blacks put down a marker for the remainder of the tournament.

As New Zealand were looking to reach the 50-point marker in the clash at Eden Park, the Azzurri kicked off the second half with a long ball flying into the arms of scum-half and skipper David Kirk.

Passing the ball on to his brilliant half-back partner Grant Fox, the ball was quickly shipped on to Kirwan running at pace from deep in New Zealand’s own 22.

Stepping off his left foot, Kirwan beat his first Italian defender within a few strides of what proved to be an epic run over much of the length of the field.

Another push off the left foot saw the winger find a gap and then it was up through the gears before side-stepping the Italian full-back and beating the last two chasing defenders to the line.

An 80-metre run in total, it was a remarkable try which saw New Zealand surpass the 50-point mark in an international for the first time in their history.

The All Blacks went on to secure a 70-6 victory over the Azzurri in Auckland, with 20,000 in attendance to witness one of the all-time great World Cup solo tries.

Italy needn’t feel too bad about their performance as they were not the only ones who would be the on the wrong end of a heavy thrashing at this World Cup.

Kiwis blow away all before them

Not satisfied with putting 70 points past the Italians in Auckland, in New Zealand’s second Pool 3 match they went on to beat Fiji by 74-13 in Christchurch.

A 46-15 win over Argentina completed the pool stage, with the All Blacks scoring a total of 190 points over the three matches.

Breezing past Scotland 30-3 in the quarter-finals and Wales 49-6 in the semi-finals, the tournament co-hosts dominated the final to beat runners-up France 29-9.

Kirwan ended up as the joint-top tryscorer at the 1987 World Cup, scoring six tries in total, as did his team-mate Craig Green.

Not only was New Zealand’s attacking rugby impressive, but also their mean defence made them stand out from the rest of the competition.

Conceding just four tries over their six matches at the 1987 World Cup, this All Blacks side really set the standard for the great New Zealand teams that were to follow.

The All Blacks would endure some near misses before they went on to win their next World Cup in 2011 on home turf, before claiming back-to-back titles by triumphing on English soil in 2015.

Once again the favourites going into the 2023 competition, the All Blacks are 5/2 to head back home with the Webb Ellis Cup for the latest time this year. 

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