Experiencing Rugby World Cup 2019

Rugby World Cup fever is sweeping the nation as we get into the 2019 tournament. Here’s what you need to know.

The mighty All Blacks are gunning for a three-peat at this year’s Rugby World Cup (RWC). They won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2011 (on home soil no less!), they took it home from England four years later, and now we’re crossing our fingers that they’ll bring it home from Japan.

The opening ceremony and match for the RWC kicks off at 10:45pm on September 20 (NZ time) at Tokyo Stadium – the same venue Japan hosted the All Blacks in last year. From there, the six-week tournament will see the All Blacks touch down in Yokohama, Oita City, Tokyo and Toyota – and that’s just for the pool games!

There are various ways to watch the games. A selection of free matches will air on TVNZ 1 and Spark Sport’s free-to-air accounts (some of which will have a one-hour delay). If you fancy tuning into all 48 games live, you’ll have to buy Spark Sport’s Rugby World Cup Pass and stream it on your device of choice. If you don’t fancy the delay and don’t want to purchase a pass, you can still head out into the streets where a number of pubs across town will be airing the games, which conveniently go down in the evening, our time.

Here in New Zealand we assume everyone was raised on the rugby field – or at least had a sibling who was – but there’s no shame in never having picked up the game’s finer details. Rugby rules can be a mystery even to the biggest rugby fans, but here are the basics. Each team has 15 players and a game is played out in two 40-minute halves. Players can kick and carry the ball, but must never throw it forward. Points are scored by tries (touchdown, 5 points), conversions (tries can be converted by kicking the ball between the goal posts, 2 points), penalties (3 points) and drop goals (ball is kicked between goal posts, 3 points). Infractions usually result in a scrum, where the forwards bunch together and try to take possession of the ball.

When it comes to star players worth noting – for when you’re throwing your weight around in the living-room commentary – you’ve got star first five-eighth Beauden Barrett, reliable lock Sam Whitelock, speedy try-scorer Rieko Ioane, the eternally dynamic Richie Mo’unga and All Blacks captain/certified legend Kieran Read . Then there’s rising star Jack Goodhue, who studied at Lincoln University and cut his teeth playing for Canterbury, the New Zealand U20 Sevens team and later on, the Crusaders.

Image: © World Rugby/Getty Images

Who’s competing and what for?

The world’s 20 best rugby teams will compete for the Webb Ellis Cup. Here are some to watch out for:

  • Wallabies Probably New Zealand’s fiercest rivals, the Australian team currently ranks sixth after a patchy run of form in recent years. They’ve been winners in the past though, in 1991 and 1999, and lost to the All Blacks in the 2015 final.
  • Springboks The South African team is also rebuilding after losing the dominance that took it to the winner’s stage in 1995 and again in 2007. They currently rank fourth.
  • Les Bleus The team that broke New Zealand’s heart in 1999 is always a threat but so far they have never won the World Cup and are currently ranked eighth. They wear blue jerseys (‘bleu’ means ‘blue’).
  • England Clad in white jerseys and shorts, the English team topped the podium in 2003. They are ranked third in the world.
  • Ireland The mixed form of former heavyweights Australia and South Africa have led to Ireland being the unlikely world No. 1 team heading into the tournament. If they make the final, the team will be regarded as heroes back home.

Image: © World Rugby

Key Fixtures

The All Blacks are calling Pool B home this time around, along with the powerful South African Springboks. The cheeky Aussies are in Pool D, the French heartbreakers are in Pool C and host nation Japan are in Pool A. Here’s when the big pool games are going down.

NZ v. South Africa 9:45pm on Saturday September 21

Ireland v. Scotland 7:45pm on Sunday September 22

Australia v. Wales 8:45pm on Sunday September 29

NZ v. Canada 11:15pm on Wednesday October 2

NZ v. Namibia 5:45pm on Sunday October 6

NZ v. Italy 5:45pm on Saturday October 12

England v. France 9:15pm on Saturday October 12

Quarter- and semi-finals are determined by whether or not a team wins or is the runner-up in their pool. These games will take place on October 19, 20, 26 and 27. The grand final is scheduled for 10pm on Saturday November 2 at International Stadium Yokohama.


What’s the Haka?

An essential part of every All Blacks rugby game. This Maori posture dance includes facial contortions, stamping feet, grunting and chanting. The most famous is ‘Ka Mate’ – here’s how it goes:

A ka mate! Ka mate!
Ka ora! Ka ora!

Ka mate! Ka mate!
Ka ora! Ka ora!

Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru

Nana i tiki mai

Whakawhiti te ra

A hupane! A kaupane!

A hupane, kaupane
Whiti te ra! Hi!


Rugby: A National Passion

The nation’s first official rugby match was played in Nelson right back in May 1870, between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club. The sport caught on quickly and the first inter-provincial match was played just five years later, between Auckland and Dunedin clubs. The first provincial unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington in 1879 and the New Zealand Rugby Union was formed on 16 April 1892.

The famous black jersey was formally chosen as New Zealand’s national playing strip in 1893 and was worn in the following year by the first NZRU-sanctioned national team to visit Australia. After playing its first match at home against a Wellington XV, the team toured New South Wales and won all eight of its matches. New Zealand’s first Test match was played across the Tasman in Sydney, against Australia, in 1903, and in 1904 its first Test match on home soil was played against Britain – the All Blacks won 9 – 3.

By the time they toured the United Kingdom, France and North America in 1905 and 1906, the All Blacks legend was immortalised. The team played 35 matches, losing just one. Now known as ‘The Originals’, this team contributed hugely to New Zealand’s cultural identity, creating a sense of national pride and gaining the respect of Northern Hemisphere nations. Since those days, the All Blacks have played in more than 550 test matches and have a success rate of more than 75 percent.

In 1924 and 1925, the legend gained yet greater weight with a 32-match tour of the United Kingdom, France and Canada. Incredibly, this team won every single one of its 32 matches, earning it the name ‘The Invincibles’.

Politics and sports collided in 1981 when the South African Springbok team toured New Zealand, sparking massive protests and huge debate about whether the nation should be hosting a team from apartheid-ruled South Africa. The games are not as well remembered as the political significance of the era, and the integral role that rugby has played in the formation of New Zealand’s cultural fabric.

Although New Zealand’s national rugby team still wears the black jersey, the game has continued to evolve over the years. After the Rugby World Cup tournament in South Africa, in 1995, international rugby became a professional sport – and the All Blacks became a professional team.

For more information on the All Blacks and Rugby culture in New Zealand, see www.nzru.co.nz.