Hosts: France, Wales, Scotland
Final: South Africa beat England 15-6
Semi-Finals: England beat France 14-9, South Africa beat Argentina 37-13
The 2007 Rugby World Cup in France promised much but ultimately failed to live up to the lofty heights of its Southern Hemisphere predecessors.
While it was far and away the most profitable and highest rating television event of all six tournaments, the geographic spread of the 12 venues (six matches were played in Wales and Scotland) and the general apathy of the French public meant the tournament never really captured the imagination.
Which was a shame. Because on the field, fans were treated to possibly the best World Cup pool phase in tournament history. Often accused of being a five -horse race, emerging nations such as Argentina and Fiji added to the intrigue at the early stages of the competition as they shocked the established world order.
Indeed it was the South Americans who got the World Cup off to an enthralling start when they upset the French 17-12 on the opening night in Paris. Suffering from a clear state of stage fright, Les Bleus, in front of 80,000 stunned spectators at the Stade de France, became only the second host nation to lose the opening match of a World Cup.
France eventually got out of Group D, thanks to a rousing 25-3 victory over Ireland, a result which sent the sixth-seed Celtic nation tumbling out at the group stage for the first time.
They weren't alone though. Over in Group B ,1987 quarter-finalists Fiji inflicted more World Cup pain on Wales when they withstood a ferocious second-half comeback to edge to a thrilling 38-34 victory. For the proud rugby nation of Wales, it was the third time they had failed to reach the quarter-finals.
Group A wasn't short of drama either. While the giant-killing upsets of Group D and B never materialised, a Nili Latu inspired Tonga gave the World Cup arguably the match of the tournament when they went toe-to-toe with the South Africans before succumbing 30-25.
All Black disaster
But the biggest story of the World Cup, from a New Zealand perspective anyway, was the dramatic demise of the All Blacks. Lauded as overwhelming favourites for the umpteenth time, Graham Henry's men rode a wave of arrogance before crashing out at the quarter-final stage for the first time in their history.
On a dark Cardiff night, Les Bleus turned on a superhuman performance to shock the New Zealanders 20-18 in a Test that was as infamous for some shoddy refereeing decisions from Englishman Wayne Barnes as it was for the tumultuous reaction from the rugby mad nation.
The image of star first five-eighth Daniel Carter in an emotional breakdown on the bench as the All Blacks inexplicably chose not to attempt a drop-goal to seal their semi-final spot, was mirrored on the Cardiff streets as grown New Zealand men were reduced to tears.
It was a shocking result for a nation that had once again presumed they would add to their sole '87 World Cup triumph. But, in retrospect, the warning signs were ringing right from the outset.
Henry's decision to base his 30-strong squad in the resort setting of the Sofitel , on Marseille's Mediterranean coast line, was akin to sending a bunch of Navy Seals to Ibiza before they entered a warzone.
Images of the All Blacks parading around the pristine white sand between their Group C matches was met with derision back home, however it wasn't until they got to Cardiff that their lacklustre preparation was fully exposed.
Although beyond their control, the soft nature of the All Blacks' group also contributed to their shock exit. Against Italy, Portugal, Scotland and Romania they racked up 309 points to only 35 against.
This inflated sense of confidence ultimately came back to haunt them. By the time they got to the sudden death clash against France, Henry still hadn't decided on his top 22 and inexcusably left influential squad members Aaron Mauger, Conrad Smith and Doug Howlett wasted in the stands.
Earlier in the day, in the first quarter-final, the Wallabies began the Southern Hemisphere procession out of the tournament. Like the All Blacks, they breezed through pool play - dispatching Canada, Fiji, Japan and Wales - before running into an English brick wall in Marseille.
Despite scoring the only try, to winger Lote Tuqiri, the Wallabies ' weak underbelly at scrum time and in the general forward exchanges was uncovered as the hero from the 2003 World Cup, Jonny Wilkinson, kicked England to a 12-10 victory.
It was massive turnaround from the defending champions after they had been dealt an almighty lesson in the pool stage by 1995 champions South Africa in a 36-0 washout.
That performance by the Springboks had sent a chilling warning to the rest of their rivals but in their last eight match, against surprise quarter-finalists Fiji, the complacency that plagued the Boks game against Tonga was once again conspicuous for all to see.
Ahead by 14 points at halftime, the South Africans went to sleep as the small Pacific Island nation stormed back into the contest to level the scores at 20-20 despite having Seru Rabeni in the sin-bin. But Fiji's euphoria was short-lived as brilliant flanker Juan Smith sealed the deal with his team's fourth try. The win set up a semi-final berth against Argentina, who later that day narrowly edged Scotland 16-12 in the fourth and final quarter-final.
From here all roads led to Paris. Sure tournament favorites, the All Blacks, were left to face the wrath back home but the World Cup still had (nearly) all the vital ingredients - the hosts, the defending champions and the tournament darlings.
French get interested
Indeed for one buzzing week in Paris, it seemed like the apathetic Parisians actually cared. Les Bleus had recovered from their shock opening night defeat to bring together the whole nation.
Tens of thousands of curious spectators streamed to big screen venues around the iconic Hotel de Ville and the Eiffel Tower as bitter Six Nations rivals France and England met in a replay of the 2003 semi-final. Unfortunately for the home fans the result was the same.
Wilkinson continued his clutch form with a late penalty and drop goal to edge the defending champions to a 14-8 win and their third World Cup final.
The following day, the polite excitement of the Parisians was dead. The big screen by the Hotel de Ville had disappeared and the festival atmosphere around the Eiffel Tower was a myth as just a few hundred took in the second semi-final between South Africa and Argentina.
The Stade de France was, however, still full as 80,000 spectators witnessed a predictable outcome when the 1995 champions ended Argentina's fairytale run with an emphatic 37-12 victory.
Final winning rugby
The final week in Paris regained a semblance of the carnival atmosphere of the week before when English rugby fans, who came across the Channel in their thousands, realised their team was on the verge of becoming the first nation to ever defend their World Cup title.
To do this though they would need to overturn the 36 -point hiding in pool play against a Springbok side who had all the tools to win a crunch final - the world's best lineout operation, the game's leading halfback in Fourie du Preez and two accomplished goal-kickers.
Their forward pack, led by the imperious Victor Matfield, dominated the English set piece, and with Percy Montgomery and, later, long-range specialist Francois Steyn ticking over the scoreboard the South Africans closed out their second Word Cup final with an unspectacular 15-6 win.
It was the second time the Springboks had won the William Webb Ellis trophy without crossing the try line and gave homage to playing a effective 10-man game in rugby union's showpiece game.
A hint indeed for the 2011 hopefuls.