The pinnacle of Rugby Union. A spectacle of immense excitement, colour and activity, it is a tournament that takes place in November once every four years. It is the fourth most watched sporting event on the planet, behind the Soccer World Cup, the Olympics, and the Commonwealth Games.

Since the International Rugby Board (IRB) allowed the inception of the competition in the late 1980's, and since the sport became professional, the Rugby World Cup has become the premier Rugby competition in the world.

It is thought that the defining moment in the creation of such a tournament came when the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) each independently wrote to the IRFB seeking to conduct a World Cup tournament.

This movement lead to the first World Cup being hosted jointly between the two nations.

Twenty teams take part, having qualified in local continental derbies during the past 4 years, or having qualified automatically as quarter finalists in the previous competition.

They battle for the most prestigious trophy in Rugby, the William Webb Ellis cup, affectionately known as Bill.

The teams are spilt into four pools of five, A through to D, the automatic qualifiers are spilt into quarterfinals winners and losers. One of each is placed into each pool, the other spots being determined by qualifying matches between weaker nations.

More History
The inaugural tournament was held in 1987, hosted by Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand won the first World Cup final, beating France 29 - 9.

World Cup Hosts
1987 - Australia and New Zealand
1991 - England
1995 - South Africa
1999 - Wales
2003 - Australia

2007 - France
2011 - New Zealand

World Cup Champions
1987 - New Zealand
1991 - Australia
1995 - South Africa
1999 - Australia
2003 - England

Until the 2003 World Cup, which saw England win over the Australian Wallabies with a heart breaking Jonny Wilkinson field goal in the 99th minute, World Cup Rugby has been dominated by Southern Hemisphere victories.

This looks in danger of reversing completely, as realistic favourite for the 2007 competition (behind the sublimely in-form New Zealand All Blacks, who are perennial chokers), is host nation France.

Great Moments, Great Players
Not only have the World Cups produced some of the finest sporting moments in all of history, they have been responsible for the emergence of several star players, who, when the time was right, exploded onto rugby's glittering stage.

World Cup Player of the Tournament
1987 - Michael Jones (New Zealand)
1991 - David Campese (Australia)
1995 - Jonah Lomu (New Zealand)
1999 - Tim Horan (Australia)
2003 - Jonny Wilkinson (England)

Variations on the tournament include the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the Sevens Rugby World Cup, a world competition for the abbreviated code, and the Under 21 Rugby World Championship.