The Benchwarmer's Comment

5:29 pm on 11 September 2015

Jamie Wall, rugby writer and washed-up player - @JamieWall2

Rugby World Cup columnist Jamie Wall takes a look back at the journey of the Webb Ellis Cup and some of its more awkward moments.

The Webb Ellis Cup, for those of you who don't know, is what the winning team gets handed at the end of the Rugby World Cup. It certainly looks nice, is definitely the right colour and can be easily held aloft by locks and halfbacks alike.

Download and print out an RNZ wall guide to the Rugby World Cup by cartoonist Toby Morris

The All Blacks captain Richie McCaw holds the Rugby World Cup. (The Webb Ellis Trophy).

All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw holds the trophy at the end of the 2011 competition. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But there's a little bit more to it than meets the eye. First off, the name of it is a little bit odd; there's no hard evidence that William Webb Ellis actually invented rugby. In fact, the only verified sporting feat documented about him is that he was a bit of a cheat at cricket.

Also, upon closer inspection of the cup itself, it really has nothing on it to suggest that it's even associated with the sport of which it's supposed to be the greatest prize. Apparently the story goes that the original World Cup organisers actually left getting an actual cup to the last minute, so one of them simply popped into the nearest antique dealer. He grabbed the first one that looked suitable, decided to name it after a guy that probably never even played the game and boom, the Rugby World Cup could justifiably bear that name.

So, after that innocuous beginning the trophy made it to New Zealand in 1987 for All Black captain David Kirk to be presented with after the All Blacks had triumphed in the final over France. A fantastic moment for New Zealand sport, except some clown behind him decided to do a 1980's proto-photobomb and ruin it with a 'hey mum I'm on TV!' pose.

Four years later and the Webb Ellis Cup was involved in the first handshake faux pas when it was handed over to Wallaby captain Nick Farr-Jones. After shaking hands with the Queen and getting handed the Cup, the Aussie blatantly left some old geezer hanging who was standing next to her. It's pretty painful to watch, but it's really the old guy's fault for thinking that Farr-Jones would rather shake his hand than hold up the World Cup.

1995 finally gave us a trophy presentation that was worth a place in history, with Nelson Mandela handing over the Cup to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar. The look in each other's eyes of friendship, reconciliation and the knowledge that their plan of poisoning the All Blacks had worked perfectly - okay maybe that's just a conspiracy theory, has become iconic worldwide.

Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar. Rugby World Cup Final, Ellis Park, 1995.

Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela shake hands during the presentation of the Webb Ellis cup. Rugby World Cup 1995 Photo: Photosport

In 2003 the venerable commentator Keith Quinn added to the Webb Ellis Cup's list of cringe by inexplicably calling victorious English captain Martin Johnson 'Martin Devlin' when he grasped the trophy above his head in ogre-like fashion. Then four years later the handshake curse reared its head again when Springbok captain John Smit was forced to awkwardly shake the left hand of French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Of course, no Webb Ellis trophy presentation review piece could be complete without mentioning the infamous involvement of New Zealand's prime minister in 2011. John Key, desperate to be a part of the feel good moment, blundered his way into Richie McCaw and IRB boss Bernard Lapasset's congratulatory handshake and refused to let go. Despite the delirium surrounding the victory, Key's awkward moment of needing to feel wanted was very much noticed by the public and the term 'three-way handshake' has sadly become synonymous with All Blacks dramatic final victory.

So, for a bit of gold with so many hopes and dreams riding on it, the Webb Ellis Cup has had a pretty up and down past. But hey, at least it actually is a cup, which is more than you can say about the soccer one.

The Benchwarmer's Comment logo

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz.