WELLINGTON, New Zealand
The release of the rugby world rankings was met with little fanfare this week, although at first glance it appeared to be one of the most significant power shifts in the global game in years.
Four Northern Hemisphere teams won the second legs of their three-Test series against Southern Hemisphere opponents last weekend, taking the series into the deciding Tests to be played across three continents on Saturday.
France also completed a two-Test series against Japan in Japan, fielding a relatively young squad with an eye on next year’s World Cup.
The new rankings reflect these achievements while also indicating a wider shift in the balance of power in rugby just over a year on from the World Cup. Since the introduction of the ranking system, teams from the southern hemisphere have mostly occupied the top spots: New Zealand was in first place for most of the first decade.
France climbed three places to now top the rankings for the first time after winning 11 consecutive Tests, including the Japan series, the Test against New Zealand last November and the Six Nations Grand Slam.
Ireland climbed four places to 2nd ahead of World Cup champions South Africa who moved from second to third. New Zealand are now fourth, the All Blacks’ lowest ranking since the system was introduced before the 2003 World Cup.
England have moved back into the top five following their second Test win over Australia, having fallen sharply to sixth. Scotland and Wales also improved their rankings after wins over Argentina and South Africa last weekend.
The news of New Zealand’s record low rating has fallen on a team already under extreme pressure after their first ever loss at home to Ireland. After losing 23-12 in Dunedin, the All Blacks are looking to avoid an unprecedented series defeat at home, which would almost certainly force New Zealand Rugby to reassess the performance of head coach Ian Foster and his assistants.
All Blacks captain Sam Cane did his best to step back from New Zealand’s rankings in an impromptu news conference at a rain-soaked training ground on Tuesday, although it is unlikely to go unnoticed in a team already facing heavy criticism for his performance in the tournament. the second test.
“To be honest, we didn’t pay too much attention to it,” Cane said. “We have enough work to digest what happened at the weekend and then focus on the game to worry about things like the world ranking.”
“That will take care of itself when we play well. I don’t even understand exactly how the rankings work, but it’s definitely our goal to make sure we get back to number 1.”
England beat Australia to level the series and take the pressure off head coach Eddie Jones, whose method, selection and personality have made him a regular target in the British media. Australian-born Jones said he relishes criticism.
“I love it. I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “I love it when my mother rings me in the morning and says, ‘Are you going to be fired? When do you have to move? Are you going back to Australia?’
“My poor mother. But I don’t mind because I chose to take the job and that’s always going to happen because there’s a craze about firing coaches now isn’t it?”
The question of why Northern Hemisphere teams are now outscoring their Southern rivals, both at home during end-of-year tours and in the current mid-year series, has many possible answers.
It seems likely that the quality of domestic competitions in Britain and Europe is now higher than in the southern hemisphere, where Super Rugby has been reduced by the departure of clubs from South Africa.
Many top coaches from the southern hemisphere have also moved north due to a lack of opportunities at home and their influence is seen in improving skills among northern players.
Teams from the southern hemisphere have won eight of the nine World Cup titles to date – with England beating then-defending champions Australia when they broke the southern streak in the 2003 final. But as the 10th World Cup approaches, the teams from the north seem to have the upper hand.
Foster, whose future with the All Blacks may rest on South’s success this weekend, sees that as a good thing.
“It was a northern hemisphere weekend,” Foster said last weekend. “So even though there’s a bit of doom and gloom in our camp, it’s actually great for world rugby and it’s looking really good next weekend.”
Away from the more prominent southern venues, the Pacific Nations Cup continued at Churchill Park in Lautoka last weekend, where hosts Fiji were beaten by Australia A, a collection of players missing Wallabies selection.
It has once again highlighted one of rugby’s most intractable problems, as the wealthiest nations prosper while comparatively less-funded national teams struggle to compete.
More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
“Internet evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Hardcore entrepreneur. Incurable analyst. Extreme food junkie. Unapologetic tv maven. Reader.”