The Rugby World Cup was established in 1987. The men’s national teams of the governing body, World Rugby, contest for the Webb Ellis Cup. The cup is named after William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School, who is believed to have invented rugby by picking up the ball during a game of football.
Sixteen teams initially contested in the competition but since 1999 twenty teams have participated. With the initial tournament the 16 places were filled by seven eligible International Rugby World Board (IRFB, now World Rugby) and the other teams by invitation. In the current format, the teams who first to third in the group stages at the previous tournament automatically qualify for the next tournament. The remaining places are determined by region-based qualification play-offs.
New Zealand were the joint hosts with Australia of the first tournament and the eventual winner, defeating France 29-9.
England are the only nation from the northern hemisphere who have won. They won the tournament in 2003 by defeating Australia, 20-17, in a thrilling final that went to extra time.
The most successful team in the history of the tournament is New Zealand, with three wins. They are also the only team who have won back to back tournaments, with wins in 2011 and 2015.
Nations that have never missed a tournament to date: Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales and Canada. South Africa have played all five tournaments in the post-apartheid era.
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