Whilst the 1995 tournament is probably the most well-known edition of rugby’s biggest competition, four years later it was held in one of the world’s most passionate rugby countries, the land of my fathers – Wales.
OK and England. And Scotland. And Ireland. And even France got in on the act. The Five Nations would all give us a hand due to the small size of our country, but just having the big games in our homeland was something of immense national pride with endless build-up before it all kicked off in October 1999.
I’d gotten into rugby a couple of years before and had got whipped up into a frenzy by the public believing that red ribbons could be on the trophy. We had players like Neil Jenkins, Scott Gibbs and Scott Quinnell and even managed to sneak some Aussies into the side without anyone finding out, well for a couple of years anyway.
And so came the first game of the tournament and unbelievably we were allowed to watch it in school. The whole of the upper two years crammed into a small area outside our classrooms and watched the opening ceremony, followed by Wales beating Argentina in the newly built Millennium Stadium.
With only me and a couple of others knowing what was going on, the school tried to educate us with lessons in PE. Rather than copying the free flowing rugby played by the All Blacks, we all ended up brawling like Colin Charvis and trying to do the Haka which probably looked more like the Macarena.
The opening stages were full of crushing wins and many games became the rugby equivalent of a broken needle – pointless. Teams were racking up over 50 points and England and New Zealand doubled that against Tonga. Whilst the rugby purist wasn’t too impressed, I lapped it up as the likes of Lomu, van der Westhuizen and Larkham shined on our shores.
Wales would end up disappointing once again, topping the group but getting knocked out in the quarters by Australia. England and Scotland also made it to that stage but couldn’t go any further as the Tri Nations and France powered through.
Then came one of the greatest games of rugby ever when France upset the favourites New Zealand in a 43-31 thriller, and Australia also made the final after extra time was needed against South Africa as the tournament kept on providing great entertainment.
The final though failed to live up to the hype as the team in gold took away the silverware but all in all it was a fantastic month of rugby action. Just a shame that the Welsh side didn’t pack the same punch as many of my classmates had during those four weeks. Maybe 2003 would be our year…