Luckiest rugby teams

Date published: January 29 2017

As with most other major sports, there have been a number of really memorable victories for the underdog during the history of rugby. Of course luck often plays a fairly large role in the proceedings, such as the wins for teams like Japan and Western Samoa.

One of the biggest upsets that rugby has ever witnessed has to be the 32-34 win enjoyed by Japan, versus the mighty South Africa, in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. This was not just a massive shock within rugby circles, but one of the biggest upsets in the history of competitive sport. In total, the Springboks players had 851 appearances for their country, and they were one of the hot favourites to win the trophy – eventually finishing third. However Japan stunned them by racing into a half-time lead, before South Africa’s experience saw them fight back in the second half and lead heading into injury time. That was when Karne Hesketh grabbed the winning try to send the whole of Japan into raptures, and leave the Springboks rueing falling victims to beginner’s luck against a side that had only won a single World Cup game before then. That match was dramatic, but the 1991 defeat of proud rugby nation Wales at the hands of Western Samoa was no less astonishing. This came in the group stages of that year’s World Cup and was the very first time that one of the top rugby sides had lost to an outsider in this tournament. Thus Wales could certainly lay claim to having been a victim of their opponents’ beginner’s luck, but they also underestimated the Samoan’s – and were unable to match their size and physicality. However, it was Mathew Vaea’s deadeye penalty kicks that proved the difference in a 16-13 win where two tries apiece were scored.

Although France is a respected rugby nation, the 1999 win over the New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ in the World Cup semi-final still counts as a major shock result. After all, New Zealand looked genuinely invincible at that time and no bookies or pundits gave France a prayer – which seemed entirely reasonable when the All Blacks moved into a 24-10 lead. However, the French fight back was led by Christophe Lamaison, who proved a lucky charm for Les Blues on the day – scoring nine successive penalty kicks. Just to add to the good luck of the French, Lamaison had barely played in the tournament before then. Of course beginner’s luck is not limited to the world of rugby, as the amazing Premier League triumph enjoyed by Claudio Ranieri last season, during his first year as the manager of Leicester City proved. Leicester were rated 5000/1 for the title, having never come close to it in their 132-year history, but won by an amazing ten points – with everything Ranieri touched turning to gold. Of course, it can be argued that beginner’s luck is simply down to a willingness to improve and refusal to let setbacks put you off, rather than a pure matter of fortune; but whatever it is, these teams certainly had it.

You can take the example of these four sides and apply it the next time you face a challenge, and you may find yourself enjoying some beginner’s luck yourself.