The captain of the team which wins the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in October will hold aloft the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
Many fans who once wondered which team, are now asking: which trophy?
Cup organizers concede that two William Webb Ellis trophies exist, an original made in 1906 and a duplicate made in 1986, a year before the first World Cup.
Organizers say despite their age and provenance, the trophies are “of equal stature” and both have been handled by victorious captains over the past six World Cups.
However, Kiwis are not convinced, after learning that the trophy which made a 27-stop New Zealand tour last month to boost Cup support may not have been the original.
More than 11,000 New Zealanders lined up to be photographed with the Webb Ellis Trophy during last month’s Rugby World Cup Roadshow. Many are now disappointed to learn the trophy that toured New Zealand may have been a duplicate. The original is housed at International Rugby Board headquarters in Ireland, where it is due to undergo minor repairs.
Organizers moved quickly yesterday to staunch what might have been the latest public relations hiccup to hit the tournament. Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden assured fans the trophy that toured New Zealand will be the one that is held aloft by the victorious captain at Auckland’s Eden Park after the Oct. 23 final.
“The trophy that New Zealanders saw and had their photos taken with is the Webb Ellis Cup that will be presented to the winning team at the final of Rugby World Cup 2011,” Snedden said. “We are pleased to be able to reassure all those fans who turned up early in the morning around the country that the experience they had was genuine.”
Tournament director Kit McConnell said it was common practice for major international sports events, such as the football World Cup, to have two trophies. However, only one was in use at any one time.
“Both cups are equal in stature,” he said. “They are interchangeable and we don’t distinguish between the two. They were both acquired before the first tournament so share the same Rugby World Cup history.”
“Both have been used at past tournaments and both have been in the hands of winning captains and teams. They both represent the spirit of the game,” he said.
However, many fans remain dubious and David Kirk, captain of the New Zealand team which won the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, says he hopes the trophy he received was the 1906 original, not a copy. New Zealand, despite being consistently the No. 1-ranked team in the world, has not won the World Cup since Kirk’s All Blacks won it on home soil in 1987.