The Rugby World Cup will have its first debutant in 12 years when Chile take to the field to play Japan in Toulouse for their opening match at next year’s tournament in France, and they could yet be joined by another newcomer, depending on the outcome of this Saturday’s Asia/Pacific 1 play-off between Tonga and Hong Kong, with the latter having never graced the game’s greatest stage before.
The last debutant team to win a Rugby World Cup match was South Africa way back in 1995, the year they announced their return to the global stage in spectacular fashion. Namibia, Spain, Uruguay, Georgia, Portugal and Russia have all drawn a blank since.
Here we take a look at the record of the previous nine debutants, following the inaugural tournament in 1987 when participation was by invitation only.
🇨🇱 Congratulations to @chilerugby, who have made it to their first ever Rugby World Cup— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 19, 2022
There are now just two spots left at #RWC2023 🏆
Who's left in the running and how will it be decided? 🧵 pic.twitter.com/MCzCpsT3CJ
1991 – Western Samoa
Western Samoa were practically unheard of on the global rugby stage ahead of their debut tournament meeting with Wales. But the Pacific Islanders were the talk of the entire rugby world after they came from obscurity to win their maiden tournament match 16-13 in Cardiff. "Thank goodness we weren't playing all of Samoa!" quipped many Welsh fans at the time.
Samoa were beaten 9-3 but certainly not disgraced against Australia in their second game before securing a place in the quarter-finals with a 35-12 win against Argentina.
An outstanding goal-kicking performance from Gavin Hastings ensured Scotland did not suffer the same fate as Wales as Samoa exited the competition with a 28-6 defeat in the quarter-finals.
1995 – South Africa & Ivory Coast
The return of South Africa was a significant boost to the Rugby World Cup as the Springboks had long been regarded as the unofficial world’s best team. But having only returned to the test arena three years earlier and with little big-match experience behind them during their years in the international wilderness, it was always going to be an uphill task to go all the way.
However, expertly led by coach Kitch Christie and his captain Francois Pienaar, both World Rugby Hall of Fame inductees, the Springboks grew as the tournament progressed, culminating in their epic extra-time 15-12 win in the final against the mighty All Blacks.
Ivory Coast became the second African representatives after qualifier wins over Tunisia, Morocco, Namibia and Zimbabwe, who’d represented the continent in the first two editions.
Scotland gave them a rude awakening about the task ahead with an 89-0 win in their opening game before France beat them 54-18. But the Ivorians put up much more resistance in their final game against Tonga, losing 29-11.
1999 – Namibia, Spain & Uruguay
Rugby World Cup 1991 was the last tournament to have multiple debutants after the number of participating teams increased from 16 to 20.
Spain and Uruguay were drawn together in Pool A and made their debuts against one another, at Galashiels in Scotland. Los Teros emerged with a 27-15 win. As predicted, both were comfortably beaten by the other Pool A protagonists, South Africa and Scotland.
Namibia, meanwhile, kicked of their Rugby World Cup adventure with a 67-18 loss to Fiji. France were also expected to put the Welwitschias to the sword but, incredibly, the scores were still tied at 10-10 after 25 minutes. To the relief of the home crowd in Bordeaux, France finally got going and went on to win 47-13. Namibia’s campaign ended in a disappointing fashion with a 72-11 defeat to Canada.
𝐀𝐬𝐢𝐚/𝐏𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐜 𝟏@officialTongaRU will face @HongKongRugby in the Asia/Pacific 1 play-off in Queensland (23 Jul, KO 17:30 local)— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 19, 2022
The winner qualifies into Pool B and the runner-up takes their place at the Final Qualification Tournament#RWC2023 pic.twitter.com/egTzJeDWN1
Pumped up by playing at this level, Georgia fired the first shot in their opening Rugby World Cup match against England, scoring after just nine minutes through Malkhaz Urjukashvili. But it wasn’t long before Georgia were on the receiving end of an English onslaught and they went on to lose 84-6.
A 46-9 defeat to Samoa followed but the Lelos bounced back with a determined performance against a second-string South African team. The Springboks eventually won 46-19 but the Lelos fully deserved the standing ovation they received from the Aussie Stadium crowd at the final whistle. Georgia’s first Rugby World Cup ended with a 24-12 defeat to Uruguay.
Despite a 56-10 scoreline in their favour, Scotland did not have it all their own way against Portugal. Indeed, so impressive was Portugal’s effort in the first hour that their captain and number eight, Vasco Una, was named player-of-the-match.
The biggest cheer of the day in Saint-Étienne came in the 28th minute when Portugal winger Pedro Carvalho scored his country’s first-ever Rugby World Cup try.
A 108-13 defeat to the All Blacks and a 31-5 defeat to Italy followed before Portugal took on Romania in a game they’d no doubt targeted to win, With a 7-0 half-time lead, Os Lobos were on course to do just that but Romania recovered from a sloppy start to dominate the second half and win 14-10.
As the only side ranked outside of the world’s top 20 going into RWC 2011, Russia were always going to find their maiden appearance on the game’s greatest stage tough going. But while the Bears did not achieve a single victory, they delivered four committed performances and scored some memorable tries during their time in New Zealand.
USA, first up, at the Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth, was Russia’s best chance of winning a game but they came unstuck, 13-6. A 53-17 defeat to Italy followed. but at least Russia had managed to score their first Rugby World Cup try, replacement scrum-half Alexander Yanyushkin sniping over from close range in the 32nd minute.
Strong second-half displays continued to be a feature of Russia’s campaign as they bowed out with heavy defeats to Ireland (62-12) and Australia (68-22), scoring five tries across the two ties.
The 2015 and 2019 editions of the Rugby World Cup did not feature any new teams, so Chile will become the first debutant since Russia.
At Rugby World Cup 2023, Los Condores face England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa in Pool D. Chile’s encounter with Argentina in Nantes on 30 September will be the first all-South American tie in Rugby World Cup history, while Chile have never played England, Japan and Samoa before.