Creating milestones and memories so powerful that they exhilarate a nation through fans of all sports is one of the greatest legacies of the Rugby World Cup.
The greatest moments of the Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup history go way beyond appealing to just diehard rugby fans. They are moments that stir pride in every corner of Australia.
This is one of the enduring benefits to winning the bid for the 2027 Rugby World Cup. Making Australia the focus of the rugby world again would not only enliven the code but send a big-event buzz around the country in the biggest stadiums.
Unforgettable World Cup moments have defined and elevated rugby in Australia with events on and off the field.
The waves of community spirit in the middle of a raucous fan zone on the steps of Sydney’s Opera House during the 2003 Rugby World Cup were as meaningful as those in the grandstands at Stadium Australia for the final.
Rewind 30 years, old-style faxes arrived in such numbers for the 1991 Wallabies at their English hotel before the final that they wallpapered the team room.
The support coming from all corners of Australia caught the Wallabies by surprise. The messages came from young and old, men and women and from established clubs in Sydney and from clubs that players had not heard of in Western Australia until that moment.
Whether it has been a sidestepping David Campese try, a dash of Michael Lynagh brilliance or a field goal for the ages, the Wallabies have created a legacy of magic moments at the Rugby World Cup that live on.
Here are 20 of the best through Rugby World Cup history:
01 MICHAEL LYNAGH v Ireland, 1991 (Quarter-final, Dublin)
No great escape at Lansdowne Road, no World Cup win.
This was the sliding doors moment that made one of Australia’s great sporting achievements possible.
The Wallabies were down 18-15 with time almost up after Ireland’s Gordon Hamilton had scored for delirious fans in Dublin.
Michael Lynagh’s cool came to the fore as stand-in captain. He called for a long kick-off and a good chase created a final lineout chance.
The ball went across the line to David Campese. The ball spat backwards and there was flyhalf Lynagh in support to scoop it up on the half-volley to score.
The 19-18 escape in the quarter-final propelled the 1991 Wallabies to even greater heights.
02 STEVE LARKHAM v South Africa, 1999 (Semi-final, Twickenham)
Wallabies flyhalf Steve Larkham had never kicked a field goal in his previous 28 Tests or even one for the Brumbies.
Why choose extra time in a World Cup semi-final when you are running on a corked knee with rain falling?
The Wallabies are eternally grateful that Larkham decided this was the moment to sink his right boot into the ball from 48m out.
He broke a 21-all deadlock with South Africa to send the Wallabies to the final.
Epic heart, epic play.
03 DAVID CAMPESE v New Zealand, 1991 (Semi-final, Dublin)
The All Blacks had never been beaten at the World Cup until the ‘Wizard of Oz’ took over with his magic in the 1991 semi-final in Dublin.
Most in the Wallabies’ line-up felt their 13-0 first half was the best rugby they ever played.
The full-time score of 16-6 was set up by what still ranks as perhaps the Wallabies’ finest try in their long World Cup history.
Michael Lynagh dabbed a kick ahead and ‘Campo’ caught the defence off-guard with the deceptive angle at which he swooped on the ball.
His sidestep turned Kiwi John Timu inside out and a miracle ball came next ... a no-look pass over the shoulder into the hands of the young Tim Horan. TRY.
04 STIRLING MORTLOCK v All Blacks, 2003 (Semi-final, Sydney)
The Wallabies were massive underdogs but the impossible became far more than a dream for the roaring Aussies in the crowd of 82,000-plus at Stadium Australia.
The early pressure applied by heroic, dominant defence created a chance when All Black Carlos Spencer threw a pass across the face of the advancing Wallabies’ defence line.
Stirling Mortlock swooped for the intercept and raced 80m to score.
A 13-0 lead became a memorable 22-10 victory for coach Eddie Jones and his men.
05 DAVID POCOCK v South Africa, 2011 (Quarter-final, Wellington)
This was a win against the odds and all made possible by a brilliant performance from Wallabies flanker David Pocock.
He stole turnovers at the tackle to stall the Springboks’ advance, he was immovable at the breakdown and he made tackle after tackle.
By one count, the Wallabies made 143 tackles compared to just 51 by South Africa.
In the end, the Wallabies won a gutsy 11-9 decision.
06 TIM HORAN v South Africa, 1999 (Semi-final, Twickenham)
The Player-of-the-Tournament was running on just three flimsy slices of toast because he’d been struck down by sickness on Test-eve.
Vomiting, stomach cramps and legs like jelly were pushed into the background as he inspired one of the Wallabies’ most famous wins...a gripping 27-21 win in extra-time.
Twice, Horan brushed through South African flanker Andre Venter. He zipped into rare open space from set plays, he crash tackled Percy Montgomery and organised with a cool head.
07 BERNARD FOLEY v England, 2015 (Twickenham)
At half-time, the scoreboard read Bernard Foley 17 England 3. This was Foley at his peak as a Test flyhalf.He dominated in the game-shaping moments.
His second try was a beauty from a set play off phase ball when he flattened up in attack, fed Kurtley Beale a lovely inside ball and backed-up outside for the try. He slotted seven-from-seven as goalkicker to magnify the calamity for England at 33-13.
08 BEN McCALMAN v Wales, 2015 (Twickenham)
Holding up giant Welsh back George North over the tryline was one of the most significant Wallaby tackles since George Gregan (1994) and Enrique Rodriguez (1986) helped decide Bledisloe Cup victories.
The side was down to 13 men at the time when backrow replacement McCalman somehow bounced to his feet with a big second effort to get under the Welshman to tackle him for a second time in the same play.
09 OWEN FINEGAN v France, 1999 (Final, Cardiff)
TRY! This well-rehearsed attack from a lineout summed up everything the 1999 champions did so well.
Replacement hooker Jeremy Paul threw long and accurately to John Eales at the tail.
When scrum half George Gregan was fed the ball, the subtle role of lock David Giffin was to loop around him as a decoy to draw off the defence an extra half pace.
Gregan timed his backhand flick pass perfectly to replacement backrower Owen Finegan who surged through a gap. He bullocked past five Frenchmen before really deciding he would grab the try himself in a 30m gallop.
10 NAILBITER AT CONCORD OVAL v France, 1987 (Semi-final, Sydney)
The inaugural World Cup needed a dramatic semi-final spectacle like this in Sydney with the lead changing five times in the second half. Scores were locked 24-all with time almost up when 11 Frenchmen handled before Serge Blanco’s dash to the tryline.
Sure, there was a little French knock-on in the lead-up but so too was there one in the lead-up to David Codey’s try.
11 ELTON FLATLEY v England, 2003 (Final, Sydney)
England’s Will Greenwood dropped one of the classic lines when he said Elton Flatley had “balls as big as a house” for knocking over a penalty goal on full-time to extend the final into extra time.
Flatley stepped up again with a score-locking penalty goal in extra time before Jonny Wilkinson’s field goal created World Cup history for England.
12 JOHN EALES v England, 1991 (Final, Twickenham)
Eales was a tall stripling of just 21 in just his 10th Test when he started redefining the skills of a lock.
In this all-or-nothing final, he cut down England flyhalf Rob Andrew to save a certain try. The English won a mountain of ball and it was resolute moments of defence like this that won the tight, tense final 12-6.
13 DREW MITCHELL and ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER v Argentina, 2015 (Semi-final, Twickenham)
Winger Drew Mitchell uncorked five sidesteps off his left foot in a veering diagonal dash to set up the match-clinching try for great mate Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Three tries in a World Cup semi-final for Ashley-Cooper finished off the excellence of his inside men.
14 TONY DALY and EWEN McKENZIE v England, 1991 (Final, Twickenham)
As plain as any World Cup try could ever be but so sweet and so important. It was the only try of the 1991 final from point blank range.
Prop Tony Daly accepted the two-handed lineout win of standout backrower Willie Ofahengaue. Prop pal McKenzie pushed and tugged Daly and the ball over the tryline and the pair looked up from the turf in triumph with hands on the ball together.
15 A CAMPO CLASSIC v Argentina, 1991 (Llanelli)
Winger David Campese stamped his special magic on the 1991 tournament from the outset with two tries and the final pass for another to young shadow Tim Horan.
Jinking, stepping, untouchable...Campo at his best. It was a big first-game statement in the Welsh town of Llanelli in ‘91.
16 “FOUR MORE YEARS BOYS” v New Zealand, 2003 (Semi-final, Sydney)
The snipe from Wallaby leader George Gregan was like a dagger to the heart for the numb All Blacks and every Kiwi wrestling with their World Cup demons.
It was one of the World Cup’s great sledges over the prone frame of rival halfback Byron Kelleher as the Aussies closed in on a semi-final boilover that extended the Kiwi drought.
Another classy, alert, organising and sharp-passing night from Gregan as skipper and halfback, too.
THE WIN: Wallabies dominant Pumas
FIVE THINGS: Kellaway continues to impress
THE THRILLER: Springboks overcome All Blacks
17 CHRIS LATHAM v Namibia, 2003 (Adelaide)
On a field used to cricket scores, fullback Chris Latham racked up five tries in the 142-0 stroll against Namibia at Adelaide Oval.
It was all great fun. Latham made an “A” finger sign to the TV cameras after scoring one try to acknowledge young daughter Ashley.
18 MARVELLOUS MARIKA v Georgia, 2019 (Shizuoka)
The pool match was idling when winger Marika Koroibete picked up a loose pass 55m out. In a blink, he was veering, sidestepping and switching on the afterburners to beat four defenders to the tryline. A supreme solo effort.
19 MATT GITEAU v Fiji, 2007 (Montpellier)
A personal haul of 27 points from centre Matt Giteau in this big 55-12 pool win in France.
The inside centre was the star of the show with two tries and his accurate goalkicking.
He organised and ran and kicked like a player in full control of his game.
20 DAMIAN SMITH v England, 1995 (Quarter-final, Cape Town)
The Wallaby winger was Israel Folau for a spectacular, soaring moment. Smith plucked a Michael Lynagh high ball from the sky above the English defence and rolled over for a try.
Brilliant in a painful quarter-final exit for the defending champions.
That’s an unforgettable roll call...and there are many more contenders still to unfold in future Rugby World Cups.