The Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifying process kicked off in Andorra la Vella, the capital city of the Principality located between France and Spain in the Pyrenees region, on 4 September 2004 when Andorra ran out 76-3 winners over Norway.
Andorra hooker Losif Tchelidze had the honour of scoring the first try in a match refereed by Andre Watson, the only man to take charge of two World Cup finals, against a side that had also played in the first qualifier for the 2003 tournament.
This match – the first of 86 in the Europe zone involving 31 nations – formed one of four two-legged affairs in Round 1 with the winners progressing to the next stage to fill the one remaining place in each of the four Pools.
Andorra then scored three tries in a 23-9 victory in Bergen – to go with the 12 in the first leg – to triumph 99-12 on aggregate and join Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary in Pool A in Round 2a, where teams would play each other home or away.
Austria took their place in Pool B alongside Germany, Denmark, Moldova and Luxembourg after overcoming Bosnia & Herzegovina 41-7 on aggregate, while Lithuania beat Israel 113-7 to join Sweden, Latvia, Belgium and the Netherlands in Pool C.
The last place was taken by Bulgaria, the 92-6 conquerors of Finland slotting into Pool D with Serbia & Montenegro, Switzerland, Poland and Malta. The top two in each Pool would progress to Round 3a, with the third placed teams facing playoffs to join them.
Spain and Croatia both won three matches in Pool A, the meeting between the two ending in a 26-26 draw in Seville after the visitors fought back from 26-16 in the dying minutes. Spain finished top with a better point differential, but Croatia progressed as runners up.
Andorra live to fight another day
Andorra finished third after beating Hungary 29-16 and Slovenia 39-5 to set up a playoff against their counterparts in Pool C, who turned out to be Sweden with Belgium’s 15-10 victory over the Netherlands seeing them claim top spot from their opponents.
Top spot in Pool B went to Germany after four victories – the most convincing 96-0 against Luxembourg – with Moldova finishing second after a 27-18 loss to the Germans. Denmark finished third to earn a playoff against Pool D side Malta.
Poland went unbeaten through Pool D with an 18-11 victory over Serbia & Montenegro in the last match securing top spot from their opponents, who claimed second place with two victories and an 11-11 draw with Switzerland.
In the play-offs each side won their home leg with Andorra running out 40-34 aggregate winners over Sweden and Malta edging Denmark 31-30 over the two legs, albeit only after a try in the dying seconds saw them overturn a nine-point first leg deficit.
Andorra joined Spain, Poland, Moldova and the Netherlands in Pool A in Round 3a with only the winner to progress to a two-legged playoff against the winners of Pool B, which contained Germany, Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, Belgium and Malta.
Spain, coached by Ged Glynn, finished top of Pool A with an unbeaten record as Andorra’s run finally came to an end with four defeats, some 20 months after it had begun against Norway.
The battle for top spot in Pool B went right down the final match with Germany and Belgium both unbeaten when they took to the pitch in Hanover. Five tries – including two from centre Clemens von Grumblow – saw Germany run out 33-15 winners.
Germany building for the future
For Germany their Pool B highlight was undoubtedly their 108-0 defeat of Serbia & Montenegro in Heidelberg – the only time a century was reached in the entire Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifying process.
Germany’s hopes though came to an end in Round 3b against Spain – a side they had last met in qualifying for the 1999 tournament – despite winning the playoff’s first leg 18-6 at the Fritz-Grunebaum-Sportpark in Heidelberg.
That prospect had seemed unlikely with 10 minutes remaining with the sides locked at 28-28 on aggregate, but Javier Canosa Schack and César Sempere Padilla tries saw Spain to a 36-10 victory before their passionate supporters in Madrid.
The victory secured Spain a place in Division 1 of the European Nations Cup and also a Round 4 playoff against the Czech Republic, the fifth team in the previous year’s competition. Russia and the Ukraine would meet in the other playoff.
Fly half Esteban Roqué Segovia scored 29 points across the two legs as Spain ran out 77-29 winners to join Romania and Georgia in Pool B in Round 5. Russia joined Portugal and Italy in Pool A with a 62-28 defeat of the Ukraine in September 2006.
Big guns enter the fray
The business end had now been reached with the two Pool winners qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2007 as Europe 1 and Europe 2, the two runners up progressing to a playoff to determine the Europe 3 qualifier and the nation consigned to the Répechage.
Italy lived up to their billing to top Pool A with Kaine Robertson and Marko Stanojevic scoring hat-tricks in an 83-0 defeat of Portugal in L’Aquila, before they triumphed 67-7 over Russia in Moscow, although Konstantin Rachkov’s try received the biggest cheer.
Russia seemed destined to finish second when they led 23-16 with 18 minutes remaining, only for Portugal to snatch a 26-23 victory after Diogo Mateus’ try and Duarte Pinto’s conversion and penalty to delight the home crowd in Lisbon.
Italy had already confirmed their place in Pool C at Rugby World Cup 2007 alongside New Zealand and Scotland, but they would be joined there by the Europe 2 qualifier, which turned out to be Romania after they beat Georgia 20-8 and Spain 43-20.
That left just one direct passage to France awaiting Portugal or Georgia, who beat Spain 37-23 in Tbilisi to finish behind Romania. Georgia, who made their debut at RWC 2003, duly took that after beating Portugal 17-3 in Tbilisi and drawing 11-11 in Lisbon.
Portugal into the repechage
Portugal’s dream of a first Rugby World Cup was still alive, though, they would just have to negotiate the Repechage if they were to join Italy and Romania in Pool C. They passed the first hurdle, beating Morocco 10-5 and 16-15 to leave only Uruguay in their way.
However, Uruguay had beaten Portugal in the Répechage for the 1999 tournament and had 15 veterans of RWC 2003 in their squad for the first leg. Portugal, coached by Tomaz Morais, though emerged with a 12-5 victory to take to Montevideo on 24 March.
The 191st and final qualifying match had barely begun when Juan Carlos Bado was sent off for Uruguay, and, while they recovered to win 18-12, they could only watch broken-hearted as Portugal celebrated their historic 24-23 aggregate victory.