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Jonathan Davies

Jonathan Davies was in commanding form in the first World Cup

The day Wales got bitten by the World Cup bug!

It was on a Bank Holiday Monday 36 years ago on 25 May, 1987 that Wales kicked-off their World Cup journey. They were match No 8 in the inaugural tournament, facing Ireland in Wellington.  

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Maggie Thatcher was still in No 10 in 1987, and heading for a third term in office a month later, while U2 were top of the American charts with ‘With or Without You’ and Starship were top of the pops in the UK with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’. 

France won the Grand Slam in the then Five Nations, Wales won a solitary game but it was against England! While Coventry City beat Spurs 3-2 in the FA Cup final the week before the World Cup kicked-off, Pat Cash triumphed at Wimbledon alongside Martina Navratilova, who picked up the eighth of her nine singles titles. 

Australia beat England in the one-day cricket World Cup final later in the year and Pakistan won the five Test series in England 1-0. 

Inflation in 1987 was running at only 4.17%, compared to today’s rate of 10.70% and prices are running at 3.60 times higher. That means what you bought for £100 in 1987 would cost you £359.89 today in 2023. 

How much did things cost in 1987? These are the prices of some items from that year:

Gallon of petrol £1.70
Mobile phone – Nokia Cityman £1,320
Daily Mirror newspaper 18.20p
Average house price £54,000
Ford Sierra Sapphire 2.0i GLS £9,679
Wales v England ticket (North Upper) £10 (and, for completeness, did you know that an U17 can watch Wales face South Africa at Principality Stadium this summer for the same price!)


 Paul Thorburn

Paul Thorburn in action for Wales

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Wales’ inaugural World Cup

It was at a windy Athletic Park, in Wellington, when Wales and Ireland met in their opening Group fixture in the first Rugby World Cup just over 36 years ago on 25th May 1987 – 51 days after Ireland had won 15-11 in the Five Nations Championship in Cardiff.

The Irish were 6-0 up at the break, but the Richard Moriarty led Wales fought back in the second half to win 13-6.

Fly-half Jonathan Davies was in commanding form in a swirling wind with his half-back partner Robert Jones providing a sound service. It was Davies and his clubmate, full back Paul Thorburn, who played a part in creating the game’s only try, scored by centre Mark Ring.

Thorburn converted and Davies dropped two smart goals to surpass Michael Kiernan’s two first-half penalties. It wasn’t a classic, but it was a winning start for Wales at the World Cup.

Wales went on to beat Tonga 29-16 and Canada 40-9 in the Pool stages, England 16-3 in the quarter-finals, but lost 49-6 to New Zealand in the semi-finals. They met Australia in the Play-Off for third place and won 22-21 in Rotorua.

That inaugural World Cup campaign remains Wales’ most successful tournament of the nine to date.

Despite Warren Gatland leading his charges to two semi-finals, in 2011 and last time-out in 2019, on both occasions they achieved a fourth place finish after losing the play-off match to Australia and then most recently New Zealand, can they go one – or even two – better in 2023?

These are the teams that took the field on that historic day in 1987, look-out for two members of the current Welsh Rugby Union Board – including the chairman – in the matchday 22:

Ireland: Hugo MacNeill; Trevor Ringland, Brendan Mullin, Michael Kiernan, Keith Crossan; Paul Dean, Michael Bradley; Phil Orr, Terry Kingston, Des Fitzgerald, Donal Lenihan (captain), Willie Anderson, Phil Matthews, Derek McGrath, Brian Spillane
Reps: David Irwin, Tony Ward, Tony Doyle, Job Langbroek, Jim Glennon, John MacDonald

Wales: Paul Thorburn; Ieuan Evans, John Devereux, Mark Ring, Adrian Hadley; Jonathan Davies, Rob Jones; Jeff Whitefoot, Kevin Phillips, Stuart Evans, Richard Moriarty (captain), Rob Norster, Gareth Roberts, Richie Collins, Paul Moriarty
Reps: Glen Webbe, Malcolm Dacey, Ray Giles, Anthony Buchanan, Huw Richards, Alan Phillips

Referee: Kerry Fitzgerald (Australia)

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