Angleterre, nil points: drawing a blank at the World Cup

Among all the post mortems, tearing out of hair and gallows humour which accompanied the aftermath of England’s defeat to South Africa, a question reared its head during a discussion with friends: how many teams have been ‘nilled’ in World Cup matches? Inevitably this was accompanied by the utterance of ‘Oh God, we’re not the first are we?’

Very few teams score zero in international rugby. Surely a cheap penalty or a speculative drop goal can be mustered in 80 minutes as confirmation that you have at least turned up. However, after a bit of thinking a few instances came to mind. We came up with 3 other occasions when this had occurred and a little research informed us that there was a fourth we had missed out. The fact that that particular game had 3 people sent off means that no one remembers the score anyway so we didn’t feel too bad.

So England join an exclusive and not-very-illustrious club which also comprises the Ivory Coast, Canada, Spain and Namibia. The tag of World Champions looks ever more embarrassing. Sadly I have been unable to ascertain whether these other rugby giants ever looked like scoring in their games because if they did then they are one up on England. Either way, here is the roll of dishonour to which England is the most recent addition:

1995 – Scotland 89 – 0 The Ivory Coast

The Ivory Coast’s one appearance in the World Cup was a traumatic experience. Their first game saw them concede what at the time was a record score, saw Gavin Hastings rack up the highest individual points tally in an international (44, including the first 27 points of the match), and saw them become the first side to be ‘nilled’ in the World Cup.

Worse was to come a week later when their winger, Max Brito, broke his neck against Tonga and was paralysed from the neck down. This certainly puts all of these so-called debacles into perspective.

For the record, Scotland’s and Hastings’ records lasted only 9 days as Simon Culhane scored 45 of New Zealand’s 145 points against Japan. At least Japan managed to muster 17 points of their own.

1995 – South Africa 20 – 0 Canada

Nobody remembers the score in this game. What they recall is probably the ugliest incident in Rugby World Cups when an ice hockey-style brawl erupted between the two sides. James Dalton was sent off for South Africa, Gareth Rees and Rod Snow for Canada. Pieter Hendriks was later suspended for his part in starting the fight, although Canadian full back Scott Stewart, whose completely unnecessary intervention sparked the whole thing, got off scott free (sorry).

For the record, it was a dour game in which all the points were scored in the first 41 minutes with 2 tries from Adrian Richter and 10 points from the boot of Joel Stransky. But let’s be honest, it was all about the fight.

1999 – Scotland 48 – 0 Spain

Who would have thought that it is Scotland who apparently guard their try-line most jealously at World Cups? 1999 was Spain’s only appearance in World Cups thus far and sadly for them they are the only country to have appeared in the tournament and not scored a try. They gave a good account of themselves though and, in a group also containing South Africa, never conceded 50 points in a game. This was a fairly low key match in which Scotland steadily accumulated points with 2 tries from Cammie Mather and 18 points from Duncan Hodge.

2003 – Australia 142 – 0 Namibia

Most tries by a team, biggest winning margin – this was the ultimate World Cup mismatch which had many querying the wisdom of including so many minnows in the tournament. Chris Latham scored 5 tries, Lote Tuqiri and Matt Giteau both bagged hat-tricks and Mat Rogers racked up 42 points, including 2 tries of his own. It was a procession as the Wallabies put in a display of flat-track bullying of which their cricketing countryman Matthew Hayden would have been proud.

Fortunately, Namibia and their fellow ‘minnows’ have given a much more encouraging account of themselves this time around.

2007 – South Africa 36 – 0 England

I don’t want to talk about it.


2007 – Scotland 42 – 0 Romania

Trust the Scots. Barely half an hour after I finished and submitted this article, they recorded yet another clean sheet in World Cups. Romania added their name to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday night in a fairly uninspiring encounter in which Scotland barely emerged from third gear but an upset never really threatened. Chris Paterson opened the scoring after only a minute and 3 tries from Ally Hogg and 2 from Rory Lamont, all of which Paterson converted, secured a comfortable victory. The biggest impact made by this game, though, was in ruining the end of this article.

By Stuart Peel