If 1995 captured the imagination, 2000 flattened it.
Despite over 250 thousand people flocking to games in the heartlands in 1995, someone came up with a smart idea of largely taking the pool games elsewhere.
There were games held in Ireland, Wales and Scotland without domestic sides in these place to help boost ticket sales and it appeared that very few people knew the competition was happening. Even in England there was a succession of low crowds despite venues like Watford, Reading and Gloucester being used. It was almost complete contrast to places bursting to the seams five years earlier.
The ten team – fifteen game schedule was expanded to sixteen teams with thirty-one games in total. Included for the first time was a New Zealand Moari side and I’m not sure whether this added or took away further credibility. There were several sub 3500 crowds and the whole thing felt a lot more low key than 1995.
By the time of this World Cup, I still couldn’t drive so didn’t actually attend any games. My Rugby League interest had grown considerably (I was editor of Leigh Centurions website at this time) and a number of players with Leigh connections took part.
England had Paul Rowley in the squad, Dave Whittle represented Wales, Dave Bradbury and Liam Bretherton wore the green of Ireland along with the excellent Tommy Martyn and Willie Swan played for Samoa.
It was only when it got round to the knock-out stages that the competition got really interesting.
Sky also showed games during this competition with Wales giving an almighty scare to Australia in the semi-final, video of which you’ll be able to see below:
After putting Ireland out in the quarter finals England saved their worst performance for their biggest game – pummelled by a rampant New Zealand who eventually won 49-6.
The Kiwis were brilliant and as a result quietly fancied their chances, having also run over 50 points past France. The World Cup Final played in front of 44,329 at Old Trafford was close at half-time, before the Aussies took complete command of the second half and won 40-12!
A video from that game can be seen below:
The postmortem of the tournament revealed a loss of £2m and meant there wasn’t to be another World Cup for eight years!