LONDON (Reuters) - Following is a look back at previous World Cup finals since the inaugural tournament in 1987:
New Zealand 29 France 9 (Played at Eden Park, Auckland)
New Zealand, uncompromising and relentlessly efficient, had looked 20 points better than any of their opponents throughout the first World Cup which they jointly hosted with Australia.
Three indisputably great players, another who would attain greatness and one very good one formed the core of the side.
John Kirwan was fast, direct and a deadly finisher on the wing, Buck Shelford a force of nature at number eight and Michael Jones the finest openside flanker in the world.
In addition, Sean Fitzpatrick was an immensely promising hooker at the start of a career which would lead to the All Black captaincy. Flyhalf Grant Fox, an underrated player, directed play astutely and kicked a record goals tally.
France came to the tournament as champions of Europe and defeated Australia in a Sydney semi-final which proved one of the great rugby matches. They had Serge Blanco at fullback and Philippe Sella at centre behind a tough, abrasive pack.
Unfortunately for the French it soon became clear at Auckland’s Eden Park that the final was a match too far.
Lacking the spark and inspiration of Sydney, they trailed 9-0 at halftime after a Jones try. Jones then made the break which led to a try by captain and scrumhalf David Kirk while Kirwan sprinted away for his eighth try of the tournament. Fox kicked the remaining points.
Australia 12 England 6 (Twickenham)
Shelford succeeded Kirk as All Blacks captain and under his leadership New Zealand played some wondrous rugby. But after he was unexpectedly axed, New Zealand began to lose their way.
Their team was widely perceived as arrogant and unfriendly and all the neutrals cheered when they were decisively beaten in the semi-final in Dublin by Australia.
Captained by Nick Farr-Jones, Australia had developed into a great side with a magician in David Campese on the wing, the cerebral Michael Lynagh at flyhalf and a wonderful centre pair in Tim Horan and Jason Little. Lock John Eales and flanker Simon Poidevin were the pick of a big, mobile pack.
England had rebounded after an ignominious quarter-final exit in 1987 to become the best side in Europe, winning the grand slam and dismissing France in the quarter-finals. Their team was based on a big, powerful pack and the right boot of flyhalf Rob Andrew.
Unexpectedly, the home side tried to run the ball in the final through classy outside backs Jeremy Guscott, Will Carling and Rory Underwood. But it proved too late to switch game plans and Australia scored the only try of the match through prop Tony Daly after the pack drove over the line.
Campese, hero of the Dublin semi-final after a searing early try, was a villain to the Twickenham crowd who believed he had deliberately knocked on a pass intended for Underwood who was in the clear.
South Africa 15 New Zealand 12 (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
South Africa had suffered more than they had thought in the years of apartheid isolation and in the early stages of the 1995 tournament before their home crowds they often looked ponderous and slow-witted.
Still they defeated Australia in their opening match and edged France in a semi-final played on a virtual lake. By contrast, the All Blacks had dazzled and delighted with their exuberant back play complementing an experienced and seasoned pack.
In particular, they had the hulking giant Jonah Lomu, who scored four tries in the semi-final demolition of England.
It seemed appropriate that the two great rugby nations of the 20th century should meet in the final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
New Zealand had clearly been the team of the tournament but on June 24 the force was with South Africa once President Nelson Mandela, in a masterstroke of public relations, arrived at the match wearing a Springbok jersey.
The All Blacks, who later said they had been affected by food poisoning, seemed to be forcing the pace too hard in an effort to get the ball to Lomu. Once he was marked out of the game, they appeared to have no alternative.
AN unrelenting defensive battle depended ultimately on the boots of opposing flyhalves Joel Stransky for South Africa and Andrew Mehrtens for New Zealand.
With the score tied at 9-9, the match went into extra time between two desperately tired teams. Mehrtens kicked a long penalty, Stransky levelled and then, with seven minutes to play, struck a second drop goal in the face of a desperate Mehrtens charge.
Australia 35 France 12 (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)
Defence, good and bad, was the story of this World Cup.
Under Eales the Wallabies conceded only one try as they reached the final against France.
New Zealand, their projected final opponents, led France 24-10 at Twickenham before the defence disintegrated and the French recorded a famous 43-31 win.
For the Wallabies, Horan had been supreme in the midfield and the deceptively languid Stephen Larkham had orchestrated the team from flyhalf.
Eales was a colossus at lock and Toutai Kefu was equally influential among the forwards.
As they had in 1987, France had little left after their semi-final heroics and the match was a drab affair with Owen Finnegan and Ben Tune scoring tries.
The Wallabies became the first team to win the Cup twice on the day Australia held a referendum to decide if it was to become a republic. The nation decided in favour of the royalists. Eales, a republican, received the William Webb Ellis trophy from the Queen.
England 20, Australia 17 (Telstra Stadium, Sydney)
Australia were aiming to become the first country to win back-to-back titles when they hosted the event in 2003.
They upset New Zealand 22-10 to reach the final but were up against an experienced England side captained by Martin Johnson and inspired by Jonny Wilkinson.
Australia took the early lead when Lote Tuqiri leapt above Jason Robinson to score in the corner but England were 14-5 in front at the break after Robinson scored at the other end and Wilkinson landed three penalties.
Australia dominated the second half with Elton Flatley kicking three penalties to level the scores at 14-14 and send the match into extra time.
Wilkinson nosed England back in front in the first period of extra time but Flatley equalised again with two minutes to go.
However, Wilkinson had the final say when he landed a drop goal with only seconds remaining to give England the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.
South Africa 15, England 6 (Stade de France, Paris)
England slumped to four years of mediocrity after winning the title in 2003 and were thumped 36-0 by South Africa in the pool phase.
But they threw out the attacking tactics of coach Brian Ashton and returned to a forward-dominated game, which got them through to a second successive final.
The final was a dour, defensive affair as both sides seemed more intent on not losing the game rather than winning it.
The key moment in the match came just after halftime when England winger Mark Cueto dived over in the corner for a try which would have put his team ahead. But the try was disallowed after the television match official ruled that Cueto’s foot had touched the line.
Four penalties to Percy Montgomery and one to Francois Steyn were enough for the Springboks to become the only side after Australia to lift the trophy for the second time.
New Zealand 8, France 7 (Eden Park, Auckland)
Back on home soil, New Zealand were overwhelming favourites to win the final against the same opposition and at the same venue as the inaugural World Cup 24 years later.
After losing two pool games, including one against the All Blacks, and players revolting against the coach, the French had been written off before the game started.
But France had saved their best for last and gave the All Blacks a mighty scare.
New Zealand led 5-0 after a tense first with prop Tony Woodcock scoring a try in the 15th minute through a well-executed move off an attacking lineout.
The All Blacks extended their lead to 8-0 early in the second half when fourth-choice fly-half Stephen Donald booted a penalty before Le Bleus hit back.
A converted try by man-of-the-match Thierry Dusautoir cut the deficit to a single point with 33 minutes still left on the clock but neither side were able to score again and the All Blacks held on to seal their second title.
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Rex Gowar