Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SportsSeptember 9, 2023

Every All Blacks Rugby World Cup match, ranked from worst to best

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

The All Blacks have run out for 56 Rugby World Cup encounters (plus one cancellation) from when John Kirwan ran 90 metres to score in the tournament opener against Italy in 1987. The Herald’s Cameron McMillan has ranked them all, on a combination of performance, historical significance and personal nostalgia.

This story first appeared on as a Herald Premium story. You can subscribe to Herald Premium here.

The defeats

Let’s get the pain out of the way first: the losses. It doesn’t mean these performances were worse than, say, a 60-point thrashing of a minnow, but hey it’s a list and you need to start things strong.

57) 2007: All Blacks 18 France 20

I gladly got over this defeat a few years back in a therapy session led by colleague Dylan Cleaver. Yes, I was there in Cardiff and it sucked (lovely city, though). The fact the All Blacks coaches failed to settle on key combinations in pool play came back to haunt them at Millennium Stadium. They were up 13-3 at the break and, after France fought back to level the scores, it then appeared the All Blacks were booking a semifinal with England when Rodney So’oialo crossed to make it 18-13 with 17 to play.

You may recall Wayne Barnes missed a forward pass and France took the lead. Barnes then became public enemy number one in New Zealand as the nation failed to face the truth. The All Blacks never looked confident either with the lead or trailing late and should have put that France side away, after beating them 61-10 four months earlier, especially on neutral territory. Easily the worst jersey ever worn by the All Blacks. And Richie McCaw did not cry afterwards– not that there’s anything wrong with that – he was wiping away sweat.

56) 1999: All Blacks 31 France 43

Hard to bag a team that scored 31 points in a World Cup semifinal but let me bag away. They really lost the plot in the final quarter. Jonah Lomu was superb as the All Blacks went out to a 24-10 lead after 45 minutes and then came possibly the one of worst 35-minute patches for the ABs. France, the Six Nations wooden-spooners, scored 33 points unanswered. Just nuts. Much like 2007, the All Blacks played France earlier in the year and smashed them 54-7 only to lose when it mattered.

Australia’s Stirling Mortlock runs away to score in the 2003 semifinal win over the All Blacks (Photo: Photosport via NZ Herald)

55) 2003: All Blacks 10 Australia 22

Stirling Mortlock forever running away is the lasting memory but the truth is the All Blacks were ill-disciplined from start to finish and were punished for it. Plus the Wallabies did a great job in denying them any ball as John Mitchell’s side failed to make the most of their few scoring chances. “We couldn’t break out wide and we couldn’t get through down the middle,” skipper Reuben Thorne summed up afterwards. Yeah, I can see that being an issue. Should have played Tana Umaga.

(Sidenote: This is the “four more years” game, George Gregan’s brilliant sledge to Byron Kelleher in the closing stages. But let me share my working theory: that those words have turned into a hoodoo. Since then, the Wallabies have lost two World Cup finals and the All Blacks have won two.)

54) 1999: All Blacks 18 South Africa 22

This was meant to be the final, not the (shudder) bronze final. Both sides romped through pool play and then had impressive quarter-final victories, South Africa defeating England 44-21 in Paris and the All Blacks playing Scotland in Edinburgh, winning 30-18. But France then stunned the ABs while the Boks lost a kickfest against the Wallabies. So instead, they met in the dreaded bronze final. The All Blacks beat the Boks 28-0 at Carisbrook in July and then 34-18 at Loftus Versfeld three months earlier to have the psychological edge, but none of that mattered in a test no one wanted to play. The All Blacks still started a stacked team. Andrew Mehrtens kicked six penalties, each one as pointless as the last (but yes, worth three points). Percy Montgomery kicked two dropped goals, which should be banned in bronze finals. At the time it was New Zealand’s worst showing at a World Cup.

53) 2019: All Blacks 7 England 19

The All Blacks didn’t play that bad; it was just that England were amazing. Picking Scott Barrett at blindside flanker didn’t work and the England defensive plan was superb. Winning one World Cup is hard enough, while three in a row appears impossible. Just a weird way for the superb Steve Hansen era to finish.

52) 1991: All Blacks 6 Australia 16

You don’t have to score a try to win a knockout game but it would help. A stunning atmosphere at Landsdowne Road as the Dublin locals got behind the Wallabies who knocked their side out the week before – somehow that made sense. David Campese took over in the first half, scoring a solo try before setting up Tim Horan for another as the All Blacks tasted defeat at the World Cup for the first time. Oh well, being knocked out of a World Cup sucked but All Blacks fans were confident at the time they’d win another one soon enough.

The big wins over minnows

Marc Ellis runs in one of his six tries vs Japan at the 1995 World Cup (Photo: Phil Cole/Getty Images)

51) 1995: All Blacks 145 Japan 17

It was lauded at the time but on reflection pretty shameful that the All Blacks ran up this score against such a weak opponent. The match has provided many pub quiz questions at least and lived on in the best video game ever: Jonah Lomu Rugby on PlayStation One.

50) 2007: All Blacks 103 Portugal 13

The All Blacks finished top of their group with a points difference of 274. They crossed over 16 times but the highlight of the match was when Portugal’s Goncalo Malheiro kicked a dropped goal in the 22nd minute. If only he’d kicked 34 more.

49) 1987: All Blacks 74 Fiji 13

Just the All Blacks’ second World Cup game and their opponents were resting players for other group encounters. After upsetting Argentina in their opening game just three days earlier, Fiji made nine changes while looking ahead to their final match against Italy in their battle for second spot in the pool. The Fijians were also facing an unfair schedule in which their three pool games were played within eight days. The All Blacks were up 40-3 at halftime.

Some context: before 1987 the side had only cracked 40 three times. Fullback John Gallagher and wing Craig Green both scored four tries each, which hadn’t been done by an All Black since Duncan McGregor against England in 1905. Fiji lost to Italy but still advanced on points difference, so the resting ploy worked.

48) 2007: All Blacks 85 Romania 8

Thirteen tries to one. Another one for wingers, with Joe Rokocoko scoring a hat-trick and Sitiveni Sivivatu adding a double. The last runout in pool play before the ill-fated quarter-final defeat. Remains the only clash between these two nations at a World Cup. Could meet in a quarter-final stage year. The Oaks just need to get by South Africa, Ireland and Scotland first.

47) 2019: All Blacks 71 Namibia 9

Most notable for the fact Jordie Barrett started at 10, ticking off another All Blacks jersey number for the utility back.

46) 2015: All Blacks 58 Namibia 14

Easily Namibia’s best performance against the All Blacks. Played at the London Olympic Stadium, it was a typically error-ridden but easy win for a thrown-together 15. Beauden Barrett started at 10, which leaves the door open for Scott to complete the full “Barrett at 10″ set when the two sides clash again on September 16.

45) 2015: All Blacks 43 Georgia 10

The Herald headline of the match report used “disjointed” and “scrappy”, with the highlight being the miracle return of Waisake Naholo after his trip to Fiji to heal a broken leg. Hansen’s side certainly got rid of the cobwebs in this test as they hit their stride not long after.

44) 1991: All Blacks 46 USA 6

The only time the two nations have met at the World Cup and just their second meeting since 1913. Va’aiga Tuigamala made his test debut, scoring one of the eight tries, and Terry Wright bagged a hat-trick.

43) 2011: All Blacks 83 Japan 7

The All Blacks scored three tries in a four-minute blitz in what was described as a training run. A Colin Slade attempted offload was snatched by Hirotoki Onozawa for Japan’s only try of the game.

The Tonga quadrilogy

42) 2015: All Blacks 47 Tonga 9

Final group game, with Tonga having already lost to Georgia and Argentina and having nothing to play for. It was a warm-up for the All Blacks ahead of a quarter-final against either France or Ireland. Kieran Read got a yellow card, the All Blacks scored seven tries and everyone got a run. Most notable was that Julian Savea wasn’t named in the 23, before wreaking havoc the next week in Cardiff.

41) 1999: All Blacks 45 Tonga 9

The first game of the World Cup for the All Blacks in Bristol, similar to the match above with Tonga happy to take the threes. Lomu scored a double against the country of his parents’ birth.

40) 2003: All Blacks 91 Tonga 7

Thirteen tries to one at Suncorp Stadium as Tonga had a five-day turnaround after going close to upsetting Wales. Leon MacDonald kicked 12 conversions, still eight shy of Simon Culhane’s record.

39) 2011: All Blacks 41 Tonga 10

Not a great performance but a superb occasion as the opening game of the tournament. Lomu played a part in the opening ceremony before sitting with his parents in the crowd. Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui scored the first four tries. Prop Sona Taumalolo earned a big roar when going over late for Tonga’s only try.

The All Blacks face the Tongan Sipi Tau before the first match of the Rugby World Cup 2011 (Photo: Dean Purcell/NZ Herald)

O, Canada again

38) 1991: All Blacks 29 Canada 13

Looks close on the scoreboard but this was the four-point try days. Though, on reflection, a big sign that the All Blacks weren’t going to repeat their success of four years earlier. Gary Whetton set a new record for most tests for an All Black – 56. To put that in modern perspective, Joe Moody has played 57.

37) 2019: All Blacks 63 Canada 0

Only four years ago and I have little memory of this game except for the fact Ardie Savea wore goggles briefly, before tossing them to the sideline. The match started with a penalty try at scrum time (not great) and, despite the humid conditions, the All Blacks ran in nine tries with all three Barrett brothers dotting over. It finished 63, All Blacks, 0, Canada.

All Blacks flanker Ardie Savea wearing his goggles during their RWC pool match against Canada at the Oita Stadium. (Photo: Mark Mitchell)

36) 2011: All Blacks 79 Canada 15

Most memorable for the fact that Dan Carter suffered a groin strain in the final training for this match, setting up a Slade to Cruden to Donald chain of events. Zac Guildford scored four tries and Piri Weepu came off the bench to play first-five as he showed his skills off the tee, which earned him kicking duties for the knockout round.

35) 2003: All Blacks 68 Canada 6

Like fellow pool opponents Tonga, Canada had just played Wales five days earlier. Mils Muliaina ran in four tries while Caleb Ralph and Rodney So’oialo both scored doubles.

The Italian saga

To be honest, there have been much better Italian-based rivalries (Ford v Ferrari, the Macedonian Wars, soft-serve v gelato) and it’s a shame the All Blacks have drawn Italy in their group so many times while having never played Samoa at the World Cup and Fiji just once.

34) 2019: All Blacks 0 Italy 0

Mother Nature spared us from watching the All Blacks v Italy VI in 2019 due to Typhoon Hagabis cancelling the fixture and the All Blacks being stuck with a weird 0-0 draw on their World Cup record. And it’s still not New Zealand’s most famous draw with Italy.

33) 1991: All Blacks 31 Italy 21

The All Blacks started with 12 Aucklanders, Walter Little the odd one out in the backline but technically still an Aucklander, coming from North Harbour. Italy scored late to get the margin to a respectable 10 points.

32) 2003: All Blacks 70 Italy 7

Opening game of the tournament for John Mitchell’s side, under the roof in Melbourne. Early thorn into the Italian hopes with Brad Thorn and then Reuben Thorne scoring the first two tries. The All Blacks scored nine more in an impressive display.

31) 2007: All Blacks 76 Italy 14

Again, opening game of the tournament this time for Graham Henry’s side, in a very warm Marseilles, and the Italians made the bold move of forming a circle during the haka. The All Blacks responded by scoring 38 points in the first 20 minutes.

30) 1999: All Blacks 101 Italy 3

The All Blacks rested most of their side that played in the opener against England but still gave Italy the experience of trying to stop Lomu. They failed miserably. He scored a double and Jeff Wilson scored a hat-trick.

29) 1987: All Blacks 70 Italy 6

Opening game of the first-ever tournament and it began in true rugby style, with a penalty try at scrum-time. Shortly afterwards, Michael Jones scored and the All Blacks were away in front of a disappointing 20,000 fans at Eden Park. The iconic Kirwan try came midway through the second half. Probably missed is the fact Italy were exhausted by that point as the All Blacks scored another quickly after to make it three tries in five minutes.

Michael Jones scores the Rugby World Cup’s first individual try, at Eden Park in 1987 (Photo: NZ Herald archives)

Bronze games victories

You always want to win your last game at a World Cup, but ideally it wouldn’t be this one. At least you get something shiny to take home.

28) 1991: All Blacks 13 Scotland 6

Nothing to see here. A pointless game full of penalty attempts by Jon Preston and Gavin Hastings until Walter Little scored in the final play of the game.

27) 2003: All Blacks 40 France 13

Really just a chance for Doug Howlett, Rokocoko and Muliaina to fight over the title of top try-scorer in the competition, with Howlett and Rokocoko finishing on seven each. The trio had 20 tries between them, equal to Ireland’s total and more than Scotland, Wales and Argentina could muster.

26) 2019: All Blacks 40 Wales 17

Final tests for Read, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Steve Hansen. An impressive all-round performance a week too late.

Bleh wins

25) 2007: All Blacks 40 Scotland 0

It was meant to be the All Blacks’ most competitive pool play encounter but Scotland decided to rest their best players ahead of their final clash against Italy. Scotland haven’t played a test in New Zealand since. Still, more than 64,000 fans turned up at Murrayfield as the All Blacks scored six tries, only two of which were converted by Carter. Howlett’s double saw him become the All Blacks’ all-time leading try-scorer.

24) 1987: All Blacks 46 Argentina 15

With a quarter-final spot secured, seven changes were made to the starting side, most notable being the test debuts of Zinzan Brooke and Bernie McCahill. Grant Fox equalled an All Blacks record by kicking six penalties.

23) 1987: All Blacks 30 Scotland 3

Fox kicked six penalties again, along with two conversions, in another dominant performance by the ‘87 side. At the time it was Scotland’s largest defeat to the All Blacks.

22) 1999: All Blacks 30 Scotland 18

Due to the quarter-final playoffs phase, Scotland had just four days to prepare for the All Blacks after defeating Samoa. John Hart’s men were coming off a 10-day break including some r&r in Nice. The All Blacks scored 17 points in the first 15 minutes and the result was decided. To their credit, Scotland were the stronger team in the second half as the All Blacks took their foot off the pedal.

21) 1995: All Blacks 34 Wales 9

Welsh coach Alex Evans reportedly said before the pool game that his team was bigger, faster and better than the All Blacks, who had just opened their campaign with a big win over Ireland. Evans was quickly proven wrong, shortly after his side opened the scoring with a drop goal. By halftime they were down 20-6 as the Welsh found the only way to combat Lomu was to throw as many bodies at him as possible.

The best performances

20) 2003: All Blacks 53 Wales 37

It was worrying at the time that Wales scored so many points and also had the lead in the final match in pool D. But the All Blacks seemed to allay any fears the following match. This test featured Marty Holah and Richie McCaw on the field at the same time.

19) 1995: All Blacks 48 Scotland 30

Again not the best defensive effort as the All Blacks conceded the most points in a test since 1978. Lomu made an immediate impact, setting up a Little try while Doddie Weir scored twice for Scotland. Lomu and Weir: such big impacts off the field, gone too soon. In the end, a comfortable quarter-final win, a trend for the All Blacks, with one obvious exception.

Jonah Lomu charges through the Scots. (Photo: NZ Herald)

18) 1991: All Blacks 18 England 12

Not the most thrilling way to open a tournament, described by Men in Black as a drab stop-start affair.

A brief timeline of the first half: Jonathan Webb kicks penalty. Grant Fox kicks penalty. Fox kicks penalty. Webb kicks penalty. Fox misses penalty. Fox kicks penalty. Webb kicks penalty. Fox misses penalty. Webb misses penalty. Then time for a break and fans to digest how awesome rugby was in the early 90s.

Eventually, Michael Jones scored the first try of the tournament in the second half as the All Blacks eked out a win.

17) 2015: All Blacks 26 Argentina 16

The haka performed at a packed Wembley Stadium for the first time. A messy first half from a very experienced All Blacks side. McCaw was yellow-carded for tripping, which gave Argentina a penalty to take a 10-9 lead. Conrad Smith joined him in the bin minutes later, leaving New Zealand 13-12 down at the break. The All Blacks didn’t retake the lead until the 57th minute, when Aaron Smith dummied his way over the line and a Sam Cane try secured the win. A strong finish at least.

16) 2011: All Blacks 33 Argentina 10

You can’t win them all with tries, which is a tough thing to accept for All Blacks fans but a World Cup knockout win is a World Cup knockout win. Slade suffered an injury which led to the famous Stephen Donald callup. Weepu kicked seven penalties (leading to “Keep calm, Piri’s on”, possibly the first World Cup meme) and it wasn’t until the 66th minute that the All Blacks scored a try.

15) 2019: All Blacks 23 South Africa 13

Knockout intensity rugby in the opening game. From 3-0 down, the All Blacks changed the match in just six minutes to go 17-3 ahead in a stunning second quarter. Then they were on the back foot for large parts of the second half as it turned into a classic All Blacks-Boks battle. Handre Pollard kicked a dropped goal with 20 minutes to play to make it 17-14. But the All Blacks closed it out with two late penalties. The Boks bounced back to win a third World Cup while the ABs settled for bronze.

All Blacks lock Scott Barrett celebrates scoring the second try against the Springboks. (Photo: Mark Mitchell)

14) 1995: All Blacks 43 Ireland 19

The introduction of one Jonah Lomu to the rugby world. After disappointing on debut against France the previous season, Lomu stamped a big impression in the All Blacks’ opening game at the 1995 tournament.

13) 2003: All Blacks 29 South Africa 9

The All Blacks went into the quarter-final in Melbourne having won six straight over the Springboks and continued the dominance with a big effort up front despite South Africa having a bigger pack. The winning margin should have actually been more. Keven Mealamu sealed the win with a 20-metre run before Carlos Spencer did a through-the-legs pass to Rokocoko to set up another try late in the game.

12) 1987: All Blacks 49 Wales 6

The rampage continued for the ‘87 side. They never gave the Welsh a chance of making the final with two tries in the opening 12 minutes and did not let up, taking a 27-0 lead into the break. It got worse for Wales when Huw Richards was sent off after punching Gary Whetton – except Richards was already knocked out after Buck Shelford landed a right hand in retaliation. Shortly after Richards was stretchered off, Shelford scored against a seven-man scrum to really rub it in. At the time it was New Zealand’s biggest win over Wales and it remains the biggest semifinal win at a World Cup.

11) 1999: All Blacks 30 England 16

Lived up to the hype as England were out for revenge after being dumped out at the semifinal stage four years earlier. Hosts England were confident heading into the pool match after a draw with the All Blacks at Twickenham in 1997 and were denied a Five Nations title after losing their final match to Wales. Tana Umaga threw a stunning offload, before SBW made it fashionable, to set up Jeff Wilson for the opening try and Mehrtens kicked a few penalties to make it 13-6 at halftime. But England fought back and the teams were locked at 16-16. Then Lomu again, after destroying England four years earlier. The All Blacks forced a turnover inside their own half and spun the ball out wide to Lomu, who ran 60 metres through five tackle attempts. A late Kelleher try sealed the deal.

The top 10

All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock scores during the 2011 Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and France (Photo: Brett Phibbs/NZ Herald)

10) 2011: All Blacks 8 France 7

This was not a great test to watch. And not exactly rewatchable since. YouTube page views might not be the most accurate analytics but 307,000 have watched a World Rugby highlights video of this game, compared with more than 2.1m views for the 2015 final. The match started well, with the crafty Tony Woodcock try, but little worked for the All Blacks after that. Scoring eight points at home in a World Cup final is a pretty poor effort (worth pointing out England scored only six at Twickenham in the 1991 final). The All Blacks appeared paralysed by the occasion and the expectation of ending the World Cup drought.

Two sliding doors moments: what if Donald had missed and what if Francois Trinh-Duc had converted his penalty? The plaudits rightly go to McCaw for playing on one foot but Brad Thorn’s performance and influence, having played every minute of the knockout phase, doesn’t get talked about enough.

9) 2011: All Blacks 37 France 17

This is what was expected in the final, especially since France’s campaign looked to get worse after this defeat, including a loss to Tonga and a tournament-long falling out with coach Marc Lièvremont. Early line breaks from Ma’a Nonu, Cory Jane and Dan Carter saw the All Blacks score three tries in the opening 21 minutes to go up 19-0. Carter was superb. The All Blacks saved their best for last, responding with to late Trinh-Duc try by winning the kickoff through Anthony Boric and quickly spreading it out wide for an unmarked Sonny Bill Williams to walk in. A statement performance that showed it was their World Cup to lose.

(Sidenote: I couldn’t find official highlights of this game but one on YouTube features Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler as background music.)

8) 1995: All Blacks 12 South Africa 15

Playing a team on their home ground in a final under that sort of atmosphere and occasion is a huge ask. England did it and won in 2003 and France went very close in 2011 but nothing will ever match what the 1995 All Blacks side were facing. Putting aside the fact a large number of the squad were ill (life lesson – don’t eat the grey chicken), it was Ellis Park, Nelson Mandela was in attendance, the rainbow nation coming together for the first time in the wake of apartheid made it a real backs-against-the-wall test. And a wall is what the Boks put up, holding off Lomu and other All Blacks attacks in the first half.

What isn’t really talked about is this sequence: a golden chance for Mehrtens to win it with a dropped goal. He did kick a penalty from over halfway to put the All Blacks in front in extra time before Joel Stransky kicked South Africa to victory. A great performance that could so easily have been the All Blacks’ most famous win.

(Sidenote: Interesting to watch back, in particular, the build-up to the final Stransky dropped goal came from André Joubert kicking from just outside his own 22m, dead over the All Blacks’ in-goal. Nowadays that would be an attacking scrum for the All Blacks from the mark where it was kicked from; then it meant the All Blacks had to drop out from their own 22. South Africa won possession and, after Zinzan Brooke failed to take a high ball, the Boks were in prime position to snap the go-ahead droppie. Anyway, long way of saying I’m glad the stupid kicking-it-dead rule was changed.)

7) 1987: All Blacks 29 France 9

After kind of not caring about the World Cup when it first kicked off, the New Zealand public woke up to the tournament by the time the final rolled around. The cool gold trophy probably helped. The French were expected to put up a better effort after splitting the two-match series at home against the Baby Blacks the previous season. But the semifinal thriller over Australia seemed to take it out of them. It was a nervy first half, with plenty of kicking for territory from both teams. Fox kicked an early dropped goal, while a second attempt was charged down which led to Michael Jones scoring the first try of the final. Up 9-0 at halftime, the All Blacks broke free with quick tries to David Kirk and John Kirwan as they showcased some more running play. France scored the final try but weren’t really in it.

6) 2011: All Blacks 20 Australia 6

In the sheds after the quarter-final win over Argentina, coach Graham Henry informed his side the Wallabies had beaten the Springboks in the earlier game to set up a transtasman showdown and the reaction surprised him – the All Blacks wanted the Aussies. After falling to them in Brisbane a month earlier to lose the Tri-Nations decider, they really wanted them. The All Blacks scored only one try, in the sixth minute when Dagg threw a stunning pass to Nonu. It was a dominant performance “built on accuracy, aggression and discipline”. The All Blacks could have won by a lot more (Weepu also missed three penalties and a conversion). Quade Cooper kicked out on the full in the first act of the game. The Wallabies never had a chance from there.

5) 2015: All Blacks 34 Australia 17

Once again the Wallabies didn’t really get a look-in until a brief 10-minute phase in the second half. The All Blacks were in control in the first half and then Nonu ran away to give the All Blacks a commanding 21-3 lead two minutes into the second half. It got pretty tight with the Wallabies scoring twice while Ben Smith was in the bin to close the gap to 21-17 – then bang, a Carter dropped goal and then a penalty and the All Blacks were 10 up with five to play. Dream scenario for All Blacks fans knowing the trophy was locked up and not having to deal with the stress of the 2011 final’s closing moments. Beauden Barrett then running clear – one of the most wonderful soak-it-in tries for supporters.

4) 2019: All Blacks 46 Ireland 14

With the final pool game against Italy cancelled, the All Blacks went into this quarter-final having not played in 13 days and that was a romp over Namibia (you may recall number 47 on this list). Ireland also had beaten the All Blacks twice in their three previous encounters so there was a fair bit of concern. But the All Blacks ran riot at Tokyo Stadium with a superbly executed game plan that took away Ireland’s rush defence. An Aaron Smith double and a Beauden Barrett special made it 22-0 after 32 minutes, and Ireland had little chance of a comeback at the break. Any hope was crushed when Codie Taylor went over eight minutes after halftime. Seven tries to one. A near-complete performance but overshadowed by the dud in the semifinal.

3) 2015: All Blacks 20 South Africa 18

Talk about gripping. From the Jerome Kaino try in the sixth minute right to the final play when Ben Franks forced Victor Matfield to knock on to end the semifinal. Any time the All Blacks looked to get on top of the game, up stepped Handre Pollard to knock over another three points. It was edge-of-your-seat for the entire game. The Boks took a 12-7 lead after Kaino was sent to the bin but the experience of the All Blacks showed. Carter was in the form of his career, kicking (almost) everything including a snap-dropped goal to close the gap.

The turning point was the yellow card of Bryan Habana for a cynical slapdown, with the All Blacks scoring in the next phase. But the Boks wouldn’t go away. Patrick Lambie made it a two-point game heading into the final 11 minutes as the rain fell at Twickenham. The All Blacks held strong, with Sam Whitelock pulling off the biggest lineout steal in NZ rugby history until Joanah Ngan-Woo. Remarkably, they backed it up the following week in the final.

2) 1995: All Blacks 45 England 29

It started before the kickoff. Irish referee Stephen Hilditch apparently asked Merhtens which side of the field he was kicking to, so he wouldn’t be in the way. Mehrts went the other way, sending the ball towards to the English backs, with Lomu chasing them down. Will Carling dropped it cold.

England were confident after knocking off defending champions Australia in the quarters, who beat them in the 1991 final. All that confidence seemed to go fairly quickly. The match was played at pace from the start, and at the two-minute 10-second mark Lomu scored the most iconic World Cup try, stamping over Mike Catt. Individual brilliance very few could pull off. But that was just the start of it, Lomu’s opener was quickly followed by an 80-metre effort with Walter Little and Glen Osborne linking up before Josh Kronfeld picked up the final assist to score and make it two tries in the opening five minutes. England had barely touched the ball.

Things settled down a bit until Zinzan Brooke nailed an audacious drop kick from 40 metres out to make it 18-0 after 20 minutes. Brooke then went back to the script of “get the ball to Jonah” and offered an across-field pass; England raised the white flag as Lomu ran through for his second try practically untouched. 25-0 after 25 minutes. Two minutes after halftime Lomu had a hat-trick, followed by a Graham Bachop try to make it 35-3. England finally awoke in the final 30 minutes but it was far too late. Lomu was already the star of the tournament but his four-try effort at Newlands cemented icon status.

1) 2015: All Blacks 62 France 13

Remember number 57 on the list? That Cardiff defeat in 2007 was mentioned a lot in the build-up to this quarter-final. McCaw and Carter weren’t going to end their All Blacks careers in that fashion. France were in it for 10 minutes and then it all started to click for the All Blacks.

The Retallick charge-down runaway. The Nehe Milner-Skudder sidestep. The Carter backflick pass to Julian Savea. Every try as good as the next. France remained in the fight, despite earlier injuries, until Ben Smith chased down and caught a high Carter midfield bomb, quick ball from Aaron Smith shifted play through Retallick and then to Savea, who ran through three tackle attempts like sticks of baguettes. There was no France comeback this time, especially not after No 8 Louis Picamoles was yellow-carded for a punch to the face of a prone McCaw. Again and again the All Blacks kept scoring in the second half.

At one point, when a charging Charlie Faumuina broke free and off-loaded to Read, fans would have been mistaken for thinking it was a dream – 62 points is the most a side has ever scored at the knockout stage of the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks’ for-against in the three quarter-finals since 2007 is 141-37.

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