The Webb Ellis Cup: rugby’s Holy Grail

June 1987. The first ever Rugby World Cup was held in New Zealand and Australia. In front of their home crowd, the All Blacks defeated the French in the final and lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. A splendidly illuminated trophy as we approach the final at Twickenham...

Saturday 20 June, 1987. The crowd packed into Eden Park in Auckland were in seventh heaven as the All Blacks captain David Kirk became the first man to lift the Rugby World Cup. In a game they dominated from start to finish, the New Zealanders had just beaten the French by 29 points to 9. For this first edition, the event had lived up to its promises. Up in the official stand, Albert Ferrasse, president of the Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR), was one of the event’s main promoters. Although he would obviously have preferred to see Philippe Sella and Serge Blanco’s teammates lift the trophy, he still enjoyed this wonderful and emotional moment. Once the Cup had been handed to the winning team, the Eden Park crowd sang a Maori farewell song to the participating countries. In the midst of the austral winter, rugby had burst onto the global scene.

The tournament has now become the world’s third-largest sporting event. So far, only four countries have managed to win this trophy: England, South Africa (twice), Australia (twice) and New Zealand (twice). The Webb Ellis Cup, named after the man who is said to have invented rugby in 1823, is the sport’s Holy Grail; it’s what all rugby players want to get their hands on, it’s what makes rugby fans’ hearts beat faster and hopes run wild. It is a 38-centimetre-high silver gilt trophy with cast scroll handles, one with the head of a satyr and the other with the head of a nymph. The front of the trophy is engraved with the words International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) followed by The Webb Ellis Cup below that. It was in 1986, on the eve of the first ever Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, that the International Rugby Board chose this particularly ornate model. London’s famous jeweller and silversmith Garrard’s, official suppliers and maintainers of the British monarch’s crown since 1843, were entrusted with the manufacturing of the trophy. To meet the requirements of this order, the jeweller took inspiration from a 1906 creation by jeweller Carrington and Co, which was a Victorian design of a 1740 cup by London-based French silversmith Paul de Lamerie. However, nobody gets to keep the beautiful Web Ellis Cup, the winning team just have it for four years until the following Rugby World Cup. Will the reigning World Champions, the All Blacks, be crowned champions again? Or will the Wallabies lift the trophy for the third time? What are your predictions for the final?