LONDON (AP) -- The Rugby World Cup has not been around for long in the scheme of international sports, but it has packed in a lot since New Zealand won the first tournament in 1987.
The southern hemisphere has dominated, winning six of the seven tournaments, the exception being England edged Australia in 2003.
New Zealand is widely favored to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup and to claim three titles. However, the All Blacks know well that the form book counts for little.
Here is a brief history of the tournament, with accompanying photos.
1987 -- Rugby Goes Global
More than 160 years after William Webb Ellis supposedly picked up a football and started running with it, the sport finally staged a global tournament. New Zealand, led by David Kirk, became the first winner when it defeated France 29-9 in the final in Auckland. The All Blacks encountered few difficulties against a French side that had an upset 30-24 semifinal win over co-host Australia in one of the classic games. The late try by French back Serge Blanco remains one of the most memorable of all.
1991 -- Australians Win Title No. 1
Four years later, Australia put its 1987 disappointment behind it when it defeated England 12-6 in the final at Twickenham. The victory at England's rugby HQ was not straightforward. Were it not for a deliberate knock-on by Australia's star winger, David Campese, England could have closed the gap on the Wallabies. The Wallabies, despite a very narrow quarterfinal victory over Ireland, were widely considered the tournament's best team.
1995 -- Springboks Unite Nation
For the first time, the World Cup was held in one country. This was the first time that South Africa was allowed to compete following its readmission to international sport in the wake of apartheid's demise. South Africa went on to win the tournament, defeating hot favorite New Zealand 15-12 after extra time in the final. The All Blacks squad contained 20-year-old Jonah Lomu, who became the most feared player in the world. In many ways the aftermath was more memorable. President Nelson Mandela, attired in a Springbok jersey, awarded the trophy to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar. For many n South Africa, the jersey had connotations to the country's grim apartheid past. Mandela's move is widely considered to have helped unite the nation.
1999 -- Australia Doubles Up
The 1999 World Cup was notable in that it was the first in the professional era. Australia became the first team to win the title twice when it defeated France 35-12 in the final. Top-ranked New Zealand was knocked out in a dramatic 43-31 defeat in the semifinal against France after surrendering a big lead. France couldn't carry on that momentum -- just as in 1987 when it followed up a thrilling victory in the semifinal with a limp display in the final.
2003 -- England Wins For North
Australia fell just short of winning the World Cup for the third time largely because of the boot of one man -- England's Jonny Wilkinson. With less than 30 seconds of extra time remaining in the final in Sydney, Wilkinson received the ball from Matt Dawson and his dropped goal gave England a 20-17 victory. England became the first -- and only -- team from the northern hemisphere to win the World Cup. Victory capped England's two-year domination of world rugby.
2007 -- South Africa Rules Again
South Africa joined Australia in becoming a two-time world champion when it defeated England 15-6 in the final in Paris. The Springboks struggled against an England team it demolished 36-0 in the group stage. Following that inauspicious opening, England did well to regroup and upset Australia in the quarterfinals and overcome host France in the semifinals. France was again at the center of one of the great games in tournament history when it defeated New Zealand 20-18 in the quarterfinals. New Zealand's exit was its earliest in a World Cup.
2011 -- All Blacks Win Again
Few hosts have faced as much pressure as New Zealand in 2011. The All Blacks hadn't won rugby's showcase since 1987, even though they arrived at most intervening tournaments as favorites. But despite losing star flyhalf Dan Carter to injury, New Zealand swept through the tournament with relative ease. The only time they appeared threatened was in the final when France nearly inflicted another shock victory over the All Blacks. In the event, New Zealand ground out an 8-7 victory and claimed its second World Cup.