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The biggest upsets in Test match history

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Roar Guru
19th April, 2019
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These are the 15 biggest surprises the rugby world has ever witnessed.

1. Japan 34 beat South Africa 32, 2015
A desperate late try gave Japan an upset win against two-time world champions South Africa in their opening match at the Rugby World Cup – perhaps the biggest shock in international rugby history.

Japan had only won at the World Cup once before, way back in 1991 against Zimbabwe.

2. Wales 13 lost to Samoa 16, 1991
The Samoans were the only new team at the World Cup.

Just a few years before they had been regarded as lightweights and lost to both Romania and the USSR on a European tour.

But they announced their arrival in the big time by downing the World Cup co-hosts on their home-patch in their first game.

3. Australia 11 lost to Tonga 16, 1973
Tonga, drawing on a population of 90,000 and with a team of home-based players, were written off by the local press after losing most of their matches on this tour, including the first Test.

But they recorded an astonishing victory in the second at Brisbane, scoring four tries to one in the process.

4. Tonga 19 beat France 14, 2011
This, a World Cup tie, might have been regarded as the greatest upset in international history at the time, except that France were all but guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals regardless due to earlier results.


Still, another remarkable result for a nation of 100,000.

5. Romania 24 beat Wales 6, 1983
Wales had ruled the Five Nations in the 1970s and were still regarded as one of the Northern Hemsphere’s big three.

The thumping they received in Bucharest sent shockwaves through the international rugby community, and when the Oaks followed up with a 28-22 victory over Five Nations grand-slammers Scotland a year later, there was even talk of adding them to the competition.

6. Namibia 15 beat Ireland 6, 1991
Though Namibia had been a competitive Currie Cup side and performed well enough during losses to touring French and Welsh XVs after gaining independence, their 15-6 win over Ireland was another that turned the established order on its head.

They followed it up with a 26-15 victory in the second Test.

7. Australia 23 lost to Samoa 32, 2011
At this time the Tri Nations were dominating world rugby but supposedly second-tier Samoa pulled off a well deserved victory over the Wallabies in Sydney.

To put it in perspective, Australia thumped South Africa a week later.

8. Japan 23 beat Wales 8, 2013
This might have been ranked inside the top three or four except that Wales did not field a full strength team due to the ongoing Lions tour, although full caps were awarded.


The tourists narrowly won the first Test in Osaka but were well beaten in the second in Tokyo.

The moment Japan defeated the Springboks

The Brave Blossoms have pulled off a few big upsets over recent years. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP, File)

9. Wales 9 lost to Romania 15, 1991
Wales were in a real slump in the early 1990s, but Romania too were on something of a slide after the heady heights of the 1980s, and no one really expected them to win in Cardiff.

But this they did, slaying the once mighty Dragons in their own backyard.

10. Tonga 20 beat France 16, 1999
The same year France went on to stun the All Blacks and reach their second World Cup final, they were actually humbled by tiny Tonga while on tour in the South Pacific.

11. Romania 15 beat France 0, 1980
Though Romania had recorded several narrow wins over Les Bleus during the previous two decades, this was a decisive victory that really heralded their arrival among the top rugby-playing nations in Europe.

12. USA 30 beat Scotland 29, 2018
The USA rallied from 21-6 down in the first half and 24-13 at half-time to grab their first win over a tier-one team, by a single point in a thriller in Houston.

13. Wales 24 lost to Canada 26, 1993
Another embarrassing home defeat for the Welsh at the end of the amateur era, with a few key players having recently defected to league.


14. Canada 26 beat Scotland 23, 2002
The home team rallied from seven points down in the final 15 minutes in Vancouver to snatch their first victory over Scotland with a late penalty.

15. France 14 lost to Fiji 21, 2018
The visitors grabbed their first win over France in nine attempts, landing three second-half penalties while keeping Les Bleus scoreless at Stade de France.

Fijian rugby team

Fiji claimed their first win at the Stade de France last year. (Aude Alcover/Icon Sport/Getty Images)

Note, I have confined my list to victories over tier-one teams by non-tier-one opponents. Italy’s win over South Africa in 2016 does not qualify, as both are technically tier one.

Similarly, lower tier upsets such as Brazil’s recent victories over Canada and Madagascar’s dramatic 57-54 overtime win over Namibia in 2012 have not been included.


Fiji’s stunning upset of the Lions in 1977 was not an official Test match, while the South American Jaguares who stunned the Springboks in 1984 were technically a composite side.

One other result not included is the so-called Miracle of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s 10-8 defeat of the All Blacks in 1949.

The home side, then known as Rhodesia, were regarded as provincial opposition by the tourists, who sent their second-string side.