The first Rugby World Cup was contested in 1987 and has since been played every four years, with few players having the esteemed privilege of winning the title twice in their career.
Planet Rugby takes a closer look at the exclusive list of two-time Rugby World Cup winners consisting only of Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans.
A true veteran of a prop who had a lengthy career in Wallaby gold spanning 10 years from 1989 to 1999. The Queenslander played a big role in Australia’s two World Cup triumphs, in 1991 and 1999. Crowley was also an undercover policeman and worked on busting drug-rings on the Gold Coast.
Perhaps one of the most famous Australian rugby players ever with the nickname of “Nobody” from the saying “Nobody’s perfect”. The lock, who featured at number eight on the odd occasion, began his career in 1991 with the Wallabies – claiming the title that year – and played 10 years of Test rugby, winning 86 caps. Uniquely Eales was a sharp goal-kicker and is the leading points scoring forward in history with 173.
🥳 Happy 53rd birthday to Wallabies legend John Eales!
A player who could do it all, what a talent 'Nobody' was.pic.twitter.com/OPZchrourF
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) June 27, 2023
Another member of the two Wallabies wins in the 1990s and a brilliant player. The star centre had an 11-year Test career beginning in 1989 and he notched 80 caps during that period. In the late 1980s he burst onto the international scene with some blockbuster performances making him first choice in the 1991 triumph. He would show incredible form at the back end of his career too, walking away with the player of the tournament award in the 1999 win.
A tough Randwick hooker who became infamous for some of his chirping and gestures on the field, including telling All Black Sean Fitzpatrick to “Go home to your mummy”. His on-field contributions were huge in his 67 caps over 10 years and two World Cup titles. Another Wallaby legend.
After debuting at the age of 19 the centre quickly grew in popularity after forming a brilliant partnership with Horan in the midfield which proved to be very effective in 1991. However, by 1999 Little played a smaller part in the triumph as he was mainly used a replacement.
Os du Randt
The first of two South Africans on the list. A young Du Randt played a big role in the momentous 1995 triumph which is arguably one of the most powerful World Cup wins in history as it united a nation that had just come out of Apartheid. The rampaging prop struggled with injuries and spent three years out from 2000-2003 but returned to the game and played a key role again in the Springboks’ 2007 win in France.
The youngest World Cup winner ever burst onto the scene as a teenager with his versatility and monstrous boot catching the world’s eye. After an early injury to Jean de Villiers in the 2007 tournament, Jake White threw Steyn in at 12 where he flourished. He would become an important member of the triumph. The star would fall out of favour in the years to come but returned as a vital figure for the Springboks’ 2019 win as his versatility allowed Rassie Erasmus to pick six forwards on the bench – a tactic which paid off tremendously.
The first All Black on the list and one of the best the game has ever seen. The fly-half was supremely talented in every facet and by the time he had won his first World Cup in 2011 he was already well established as a great of the game. The legendary playmaker, however, felt he needed another crack at the tournament as he suffered an early injury in 2011. Carter put all his eggs in one basket for 2015 and powered the All Blacks to back-to-back titles for the first time in history. His performance in that edition of the tournament underlined his sheer class.
⭐️ Simply one of the best to ever pick up a rugby ball.
🥳 Happy birthday to legendary All Black Dan Carter!pic.twitter.com/rcVhtiMcsa
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 5, 2023
Easily regarded as one of the best captains the game has ever seen, McCaw became the first player to lead a team to back-to-back titles, in 2011 and 2015. His work-rate and breakdown prowess were second to none as no one else on the planet could compete with him. The double World Cup triumph earned him the New Zealand sportsman of the decade award for 2011-2020. Few will reach the playing and leadership heights of the great flanker.
A great prop who played a big role in the record-breaking All Blacks side that defended their title in 2015. He may not have had the influence of a Carter or a McCaw but the front-row is a legendary figure and is deservedly on this exclusive list.
Brother of Ben and an All Blacks centurion, Owen, who joined Toulouse a few months ago as a World Cup joker, was a quality international tighthead and often sat above his sibling in the pecking order. The younger of the two brothers played a massive role in New Zealand side between the two World Cups, including 13 Tests in 2013 where the All Blacks went unbeaten. The steady prop featured in all the knockout games in 2015, powering his side to the title.
One of the hardest All Blacks to play and a man many believe the side has failed to replace since he retired in 2017. Kaino was an extremely powerful carrier and made incredible metres in the contact area. Add to that his breakdown prowess, line-out ability and hard hitting defence. A dream of a loose forward and a key player in both triumphs.
A legend of longevity and one of the most capped Test players with 132 caps, Mealamu was a colossus of the game. After making his debut in 2002 the hooker was there and thereabouts for the majority of his career. A robust figure who rarely faltered in the set-piece and was brilliant around the field. A key player in both 2011 and 2015 after which he hung up his boots.
The world’s premier centre for most of his career. Nonu’s ability to beat defenders through pace and/or power was truly sensational for a player with such a big frame. His rugby IQ was through the roof and he had the skill-set to match. In 2015 he scored one of the greatest tries in a World Cup final and retired a Test centurion. One of the true greats.
With 1⃣2⃣ days to go until #RWC2019 kicks off, we remember Ma'a Nonu's try in the 1⃣2⃣ jersey against Australia in the 2015 final.
Has there been a better individual try in a World Cup final? pic.twitter.com/68nSOICMCY
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 8, 2019
A powerful leader who took over the captaincy after McCaw retired. Read was an outstanding number eight who was renowned for commanding and inspiring performances. He was one of those players who could get the best out of everyone around him. Powerful yet calm and a memorable figure in the game.
The versatile star got his break for the All Blacks in 2010 where he served as a substitute for Carter. This would prove vital as Slade needed to step in for his compatriot again in the 2011 World Cup after Carter’s injury. Unfortunately, Slade himself suffered an injury during the tournament. He was also involved in 2015 and won two titles despite only playing for the All Blacks 21 times.
The centre had a stunning partnership with Ma’a Nonu and was one of the slickest attacking players around. His ability to understand and beat defensive lines was outstanding. This also translated to his performances in defence where his elevated rugby IQ showed.
The classy loose forward was always supreme quality and was unlucky to play only 33 Test for his country, but such was the competition for places at the time. Crucially, the back-row found form at the right times, allowing him the chance to go back-to-back.
The only active international player in the group and one who has created history as the most capped All Blacks player of all-time. He also became the first player to feature in three World Cup finals, winning two. Whitelock’s line-out prowess is a cornerstone of his game as is his work-rate, which did not falter despite playing his final game for the All Blacks at 35 years old.
Sonny Bill Williams
The centre revolutionised the game through his offloading ability which is arguably the best the game has seen. The effectiveness of Williams’ ability to pass the ball in contact resulted in higher focus being placed on ball skills for all positions across the board. After winning his second title he handed a young fan his winners medal after he had run onto the field.
Sonny Bill Williams’ offloading skills will be truly missed in rugby!
— Andrew Forde (@andrewfrugby) March 12, 2021
In many ways the Rolls Royce of props. He played a bigger role in the 2011 triumph as he scored in the final, whilst in 2015 he suffered an injury during the tournament. Nevertheless, Woodcock was an incredible scrummager and was no slouch in the carry either.
A linchpin of the Springboks’ success in 2019, the fly-half was initially left out of South Africa’s 33-man squad for the tournament in France four years later. However, an injury to hooker Malcolm Marx saw him earn a recall, and he again rose to the occasion slotting all 13 of his shots at goal, proving incredibly valuable as South Africa won all of their knockout matches by a single point en route to back-to-back titles. His 12 points in the final also made him the top scorer in Rugby World Cup finals history, adding to his 22 against England in 2019.
After starring in the 2019 final, providing an assist to Makazole Mapimpi, Am was omitted from the initial Springboks squad for the 2023 World Cup. An injury to Mapimpi saw Am called in as a replacement, and while he did not manage to crack a matchday 23 during the tournament, he still picked up a second winner’s medal.
The cornerstone of the Springbok pack for three Rugby World Cups, Malherbe played a crucial role as South Africa won back-to-back tournaments. He started the final against England in 2019 and was again named in the number three jumper for the showpiece event against the All Blacks four years later. His scrummaging prowess has always been the highlight of his game, but he also displayed an immense work-rate on defence in both tournament successes.
The versatile and charismatic prop was cruelly injured in the Springboks’ opening game of the 2019 World Cup but got a second crack at a prolonged tournament four years later and came off the bench in the final against the All Blacks, picking up his second winner’s medal and celebrated in style.
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) October 28, 2023
Ever present in the Bok pack, Etzebeth reinforced his world-class status in 2019 and 2023 after a promising debut World Cup campaign in England in 2015. While he was a key member of the starting pack in 2019, he took his game up a few notches in 2023, producing stellar performances throughout the tournament, including a sensational shift against France in the quarter-finals. The 100+ Test cap lock picked up his second winner’s medal and comfortably asserted himself as one of the greatest Springboks of all time.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
A tireless, workmanlike shift during the 2019 World Cup campaign ended not only with a winner’s medal but also the tag of World Player of the Year for Du Toit. After producing a stunning shift against England in 2019, Du Toit had a torrid run of injuries but was back at his best by the time 2023 rolled around, and he rose to the challenge once again for the Springboks. He made a record-equalling 28 tackles – the joint-most in a World Cup fixture – in the final as the Boks defeated New Zealand 12-11 to claim back-to-back titles.
The inspirational Springboks skipper became just the second player in history to captain his country to back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles. He followed in the footsteps of McCaw after winning rugby’s most prized trophy in 2019 in Japan before successfully defending the William Webb Ellis Cup four years later in France. The hard-hitting flanker’s effort has put him in the conversation as the greatest rugby captain of all time, and he has been tipped for a bright future in politics if he wishes to pursue it.
Joining an exclusive club 🏆🏆
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 29, 2023
Like Kolisi, Vermeulen was able to get his ‘McCaw moment’ as he started the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cup finals, with the latter proving to be his final professional rugby match at the age of 37. The sublime number eight put in a telling shift in both finals and was named man of the match in 2019.
Damian de Allende
An uncompromising fixture in the Springbok midfield for three successive World Cups, De Allende is another Bok who started both the 2019 and 2023 finals. The powerhouse number 12 is renowned for his bulking carries and hard-hitting defence and will be remembered for his crucial scores in the 2019 semi-final against Wales and the 2023 quarter-final against France.
Like Nyakane, Kriel’s 2019 World Cup campaign ended after just one game after he sustained a tournament-ending injury against New Zealand in Japan. In 2023, he entered the World Cup as the Springboks’ first-choice outside centre following an injury to Am and thrived in the role, producing defensive masterclass after defensive masterclass, helping the Boks complete the double.
Willie le Roux
A regular starter for South Africa in 2019, Le Roux was the heartbeat of the Bok attack as they claimed their third title. Four years later, the playmaking full-back had a far more subtle role, coming off the bench in the play-off matches and proving to be a mentor to the younger outside backs. The veteran Bok also moved into the 90 Test caps during the tournament in France and continued to prove his worth throughout.
A standout member of the Springboks’ famous Bomb Squad during the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Kitshoff took on the starting role four years later and was another keystone member of the pack. The powerhouse prop has spent most of his career regarded as one of the best looseheads.
Another key player in the 2019 Bomb Squad, Koch continued to provide a telling impact for the Springboks off the bench in the four years building up to the 2023 World Cup and during it. He produced a standout shift off the bench against England in the semi-final, and while he has been included amongst the replacements for most of his international career, his value has never been underestimated by South Africans.
Despite starting both the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cup finals, Mbonambi has racked up just 24 minutes in the finale, sustaining injuries in the first halves of both showpiece events. While he was a key squad member in 2019, he took on the added responsibilities in 2023, captaining the side in the latter stages of matches. Renowned for his accurate lineout throws and powerful scrummaging, Mbonambi is among a long list of world-class hookers to have played for the Boks.
Marx has been consistently regarded as one of the best hookers in the world, and while he was able to live up to that hype during the 2019 World Cup, his tournament in 2023 was cut cruelly short. He sustained an injury in training after starting the opening pool stage match against Scotland. Still, he was on crutches after the final to collect his second World Cup winner’s medal.
Springbok lock Snyman provided a sensational off the bench for South Africa in their back-to-back World Cup wins. He was another member of the 2019 Bomb Squad, and in 2023, he revised the role after a horrendous run of injuries that limited him to a handful of caps before the World Cup. He also scored a crucial try in the win over England in the semi-final in 2023.
The versatile forward only featured in the pool stages of the 2019 World Cup but came into his own four years later and came off the bench in each knockout match. He made a massive impact on the breakdown and finished with the most turnovers (10) at the World Cup. His versatility allowed the Springboks to select a 7-1 split in favour of the forwards on the bench, with Smith expected to cover in the backline in the case of an injury.
Another workhorse Springbok forward who performed tirelessly in both World Cups. He came off the bench early in the final in 2019 after Lood de Jager’s injury, and with De Jager ruled out of the 2023 World Cup, Mostert took over the lineout-calling duties. The underrated Bok second-rower was outstanding in 2023 and notably did not miss a single tackle during the knockout stages.
Faf de Klerk
The livewire Springboks scrum-half may well be remembered for his celebratory South African flag speedos that he donned after the 2019 and 2023 World Cup finals. However, he was a driving force in both successes, with his kicking and defensive game proving to be crucial in both tournaments.
— Raophala_Mauwane🇿🇦 (@RaophalaM) October 29, 2023
The rapid Springbok scrum-half scored the fastest hat-trick in Rugby World Cup history during the 2019 pool stages and backed that up four years later, scoring the second fastest, behind his own record, in 2023. The veteran started the quarter-final and semi-final in 2023 after missing the knockouts in Japan four years earlier.
Versatile backline player Willemse became the youngest double Rugby World Cup winner in 2023 at the age of 25 after lifting the title for the first time four years earlier. He was called into the 2019 squad during the tournament after Kriel’s and featured in the pool stages, but four years later, he had become a regular starter for the men in Green and Gold at full-back and helped the side win record fourth World Cup title.
The hot-stepping Springboks winger was the second South African to score in a Rugby World Cup final, dotting down shortly after teammate Mapimpi against England in 2019. Kolbe continued to be a crucial backline starter for the Boks in the years leading up to 2023, and while he did get yellow carded in the final against the All Blacks, he came up with a crucial charge down on Thomas Ramos in the quarter-final.
The hero of the 2019 World Cup had his 2023 tournament cut short for a facial injury sustained in the Springboks’ final pool stage match against Tonga. Despite the injury ending his World Cup campaign, he was on hand to collect a second winner’s medal.