What Is the Rugby World Cup?

What Is the Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup is the premier tournament in rugby union. Held every four years, teams from around the world compete to be named world champions. Keep reading to learn how the Rugby World Cup works.

  • Sport: Rugby union
  • Governing Body: World Rugby (WR)
  • First Tournament: 1987
  • Number of Teams: 20 (men); 12 (women)
  • Frequency: Every 4 years
  • Most Men’s Championships: New Zealand and South Africa (3 wins each)
  • Most Women’s Championships: (6 wins)

Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup is an international rugby union tournament held every four years. There are two separate tournaments, one for men and one for women, which are held two years apart from each other. The tournament is hosted by World Rugby, which is rugby union’s governing body. The winner is awarded the Webb Ellis Cup, named after the creator of rugby. The most recent women’s tournament was held in New Zealand in 2022, delayed one year due to the COVID pandemic. The men’s Rugby World Cup will next be held in 2023, in France.


Prior to the Rugby World Cup, several international tournaments existed, such as the Six Nations Championship, but there was no truly global rugby competition. The first Rugby World Cup was a men’s-only tournament held in 1987 in Australia and New Zealand. 16 nations competed, with New Zealand defeating France in the final.

A women’s edition was added in 1991, with the US winning the inaugural tournament over England. Although it was initially called the Women’s Rugby World Cup, in 2019 World Rugby announced that both the men’s and women’s editions would be called simply the Rugby World Cup.


20 teams qualify for the men’s Rugby World Cup. 12 teams automatically qualify based on their performance in the previous tournament. The remaining eight spots are determined based on the results of regional qualifying tournaments. The women’s tournament features a field of 12 teams, seven of which are pre-qualified based on the last World Cup. Like in the men’s version, the remaining spots are determined by regional qualifiers.


Over six weeks, 20 men’s teams compete in a two-stage tournament. The first stage is a pool, followed by a knockout round. There are four pools with five teams each, and the teams in each pool play one another once. The winner and runner-up of each of the pools advance to the knockout tournament, which is a three-round, single-elimination bracket.

The women’s Rugby World Cup features three pools of four teams each. The two top teams from each pool and the two best third-place teams overall advance to the knockout stage, which works just like the men’s tournament.


The most successful teams in the men’s Rugby World Cup are New Zealand and South Africa, which have each won the championship three times. Australia has two wins and England took the title once, in 2003.

The women’s Rugby World Cup has largely been dominated by New Zealand, which have won the title six times. England won twice, in 1994 and 2014, and the US has been unable to add to its inaugural championship victory.


Why is the Rugby World Cup important?

The Rugby World Cup is important because it is the largest and most prestigious international rugby tournament. The only truly global rugby union competition, the Rugby World Cup allows the best national teams to compete for the glory of being named world champions.

How does the Rugby World Cup work?

The Rugby World Cup consists of a pool stage followed by a knockout round. Teams are divided into pools, and each team in a pool plays each other once, with the two top teams advancing to the knockout round, which is a three-round single-elimination bracket.

When is the Rugby World Cup?

The Rugby World Cup is held every four years. The next men’s Rugby World Cup will be held in France, from September 8 to October 28, 2023. The next women’s Rugby World Cup will take place in England sometime in the fall of 2025.