Rugby union was late to the idea of staging a World Cup. 

Association football enjoyed a first World Cup in 1930, although England did not enter for another 20 years. 

Rugby league was next in on the act with an inaugural event in 1954. But, although the idea was first mooted by Australia in 1958, it was only in the mid-80s that the rugby authorities started to come around to the idea of their sport following suit.

This delay has led to a common argument among rugby fans along the lines of “who would have won such events had they been staged before the actual Rugby World Cup was finally launched in 1987?”

The Sliding Doors moment

To create a counter-factual timeline, we need to rewrite history and create our own Sliding Doors moment. 

To do this, we go back to 1966. In reality, the RFU were unmoved by the success of the England football team. But, imagine an alternative storyline where they are inspired by the exploits of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, and lobby other nations for a World Cup of their own. 

As you have already read, Australia had previously shown an interest, and there is little doubt that other nations would have been equally supportive. 

So, in our parallel timeline, the wheels turn quickly, and the International Rugby Board announce that the inaugural Rugby World Cup will take place in 1967, and every four years thereafter.

The picks you will read about here assume that the South African sporting isolation did not end until the early 1990s, and that there is no home advantage for any team. 

1967: All-conquering All Blacks win the first Rugby World Cup 

The first choice of Rugby World Cup winner in 1967 is probably the easiest. 

The All Blacks had just enjoyed their first undefeated tour to the UK for more than 40 years, including convincing wins over three of the home nations, and France.

As you read in a previous article, their expansive and open rugby, when compared with the static nature of the fare on offer in the northern hemisphere, saw a book about that tour titled The Team That Changed Rugby Forever for good reason. 

So, there is little doubt that the 1967 Rugby World Cup would have ended with New Zealand skipper, Brian Lochore, lifting the Webb Ellis Cup. 

1971: Barry John steers Wales to World Cup victory

Different teams reacted to the 1967 All Blacks style of play in their own way. 

South Africa doubled down on aggression and forward strength to beat the Kiwis in a notoriously violent series in 1970. But it was the 1971 British Lions, masterminded by three Welshmen, coach Carwyn James, captain John Dawes, and fly-half Barry John, who made history by beating the All Blacks at their own game. 

If you consider that, as well as Dawes and John, the victorious Lions also included other Welsh legends such as Mervyn Davies, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies, and JPR Williams, it is not hard to see Wales carrying that Lions momentum over into the second Rugby World Cup and emerging victorious.

1975: Wales channel the 1974 Lions dominance to win again

By the time of the next World Cup in 1975, Barry John and John Dawes had both retired. However, the core of the Welsh side from the early 70s remained and had been reinforced with the storied “Pontypool front-row” of Price, Faulkner, and Windsor adding power up front. 

This meant the Welsh were halfway through a decade of Five Nations dominance, and half of the “Invincibles” Lions touring party of 1974 to South Africa were from the principality. 

Elsewhere, the All Blacks were still on the journey back from the shock of 1971, Australia were too inconsistent to be considered realistic contenders, and none of the other home nations had the strength in depth to deny Wales another win.

1979: A blend of Gallic power and flair drives France to victory 

The 1977 Lions tour to New Zealand was a real watershed for British rugby.

As in the two previous tours, the visitors focused heavily on forward domination. But this time, they neglected the other half of the successful equation, which was a back division that could use the possession gained up front to good effect. 

In fact, the one Five Nations team who made a real success of blending power and flair were the French who, in 1979, were at the midpoint between two grand slams in 1977 and 1981. 

Their success was built on the platform of an intensely physical pack led by Gérard Cholley and Robert Paparemborde. They also boasted two world-class flankers in Rives and Skrela, who won a steady supply of possession for a great back line led by the skilful centre, Philippe Sella. 

That blend of power and flair would have likely won them a World Cup in 1979.

1983: Australia emerge as a serious force in world rugby

Unlike previous World Cup years, there was no one clear dominant team in the early 1980s.

Although the All Blacks had swept the 1983 Lions tourists aside, they had stuttered themselves during a short return tour to the UK in the same year, losing to England and only drawing with Scotland.

Ireland and France dominated the Five Nations around this time, but France were past their peak and Ireland were over-reliant on the boot of Ollie Campbell for their points. 

The Australian tour of New Zealand in 1982 signalled the emergence of the Wallabies as a serious force on the world stage, despite the fact that over half the 30-man squad had never played a full international. 

Coached by the legendary Bob Dwyer, the tour launched a series of real stars such as the three Ella brothers, Simon Poidevin, and a young David Campese onto the rugby scene. 

A year later, that team would have been in a great position to claim the last of our alternative Rugby World Cups.

Get in touch

If you need to talk to someone about your financial planning, or just want to let us know about our mythical World Cup winner choices, then please do get in touch with us at DBL Asset Management.

Email or call 01625 529 499 to speak to us today.