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Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup is the premier international rugby union competition. The event is organised by the sport's governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), and is contested by the men's national teams. The inaugural tournament was held in 1987, hosted by both Australia and New Zealand, and it is contested every four years. The tournament is one of the largest international sporting competitions in the world.

The winners are awarded the William Webb Ellis Cup. William Webb Ellis was the Rugby School pupil who - according to popular myth - invented the game by picking up the ball during a game akin to one of the many codes of medieval football. South Africa are the current World Champions, having won the 2007 Rugby World Cup final in France on 20 October 2007 with victory over England, the 2003 World Champions. The next Rugby World Cup will take place in 2011 in New Zealand. The hosts for 2015 and 2019 have been announced as England and Japan respectively.

Qualifying tournaments were introduced for the second tournament, where eight of the sixteen places were contested in a twenty-four-nation tournament. The inaugural World Cup in 1987, did not involve any qualifying process; instead, the 16 places were automatically filled by seven eligible International Rugby Football Board (IRFB, now, International Rugby Board) member nations, and the rest by invitation.

The current format allows for twelve of the twenty available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the teams who finish third or better in the group (pool) stages of the previous tournament enter its successor (where they will be seeded) . The qualification system for the remaining eight places is region-based, with Europe and the Americas allocated two qualifying places each, Africa, Asia and Oceania one place each, with the last place determined by a play-off.

The previous format, used in 2003 and 2007, allowed for eight of the twenty available positions to be filled by automatic qualification, as the eight quarter finalists of the previous tournament enter its successor. The remaining twelve positions were filled by continental qualifying tournaments. Positions were filled by three teams from the Americas, one from Asia, one from Africa, three from Europe and two from Oceania. Another two places were allocated for repechage. The first repechage place was determined by a match between the runners-up from the Africa and Europe qualifying tournaments, with that winner then playing the Americas runner-up to determine the place. The second repechage position was determined between the runners-up from the Asia and Oceania qualifiers.

The current model features twenty nations competing over a month in the host nation(s). There are two stages, a group and a knock-out. Nations are divided into four pools, A through to D, of five nations each. The teams are seeded before the start of the tournament, with the seedings taken from the IRB World Rankings. The four highest-ranked teams are placed in pools A to D. The next four highest-ranked teams are then drawn into the pools at random, followed by the next four. The remaining positions in each pool are filled by the qualifiers.

Nations play four pool games, playing their respective pool members once each. A bonus points system is used during pool play. If two or more teams are level on points, a system of criteria is used to determine the higher ranked; the sixth and final criterion decides the higher rank through the official IRB World Rankings.

The winner (first position) and runner-up (second position) of each pool enter the knock-out stage. The knock-out stage consists of quarter- and semi-finals, and then the final. The winner of each pool is placed against a runner-up of a different pool in a quarter-final. The winner of each quarter-final goes on to the semi-finals, and the respective winners proceed to the final. Losers of the semi-finals contest for third place (called the 'Bronze Final'). Should a draw result during a match in the knock-out stages, the winner is determined through extra time. Should that fail, sudden death begins when the next team to score any points is declared the winner; as a last resort, a kicking competition is used.

The record for most overall points accumulated in the final stages is held by English player Jonny Wilkinson. Grant Fox of New Zealand holds the record for most points in one competition, with 126 in 1987; Jason Leonard of England holds the record for most appearances with 22 between 1991 and 2003. Simon Culhane holds the record for most points in a match by one player, 45, as well as the record for most conversions in a match, 20. Marc Ellis holds the record for most tries in a match, scoring six. New Zealander Jonah Lomu holds the records for overall tries in the final stages - 15 altogether from the 1995 and 1999 tournaments. Jonah Lomu and South African Bryan Habana share the most tries in one competition, with 8.

The record for most penalties in a match is 8, held by Matt Burke, Gonzalo Quesada, Gavin Hastings and Thierry Lacroix, and the record for most penalties in a tournament, 31, is held by Gonzalo Quesada. Most drop goals in a match (5) is held by South Africa's Jannie de Beer. The most points scored in a game is 145 - by the All Blacks against Japan in 1995, with the widest margin being 142, held by Australia in a match against Namibia in 2003.