Ireland and Scotland both gained ground from a rankings perspective, while South Africa were the biggest losers in the top 10 as the jockeying for positions ahead of next May’s Rugby World Cup 2019 draw intensified over the November period.
If the pools were drawn now, New Zealand (currently ranked one), England (two), Australia (three) and Ireland (four) would be kept apart as they are ranked as the top four seeds among the 12 direct qualifiers from RWC 2015.
With four pools of five teams, each top seed is drawn with a side ranked fifth to eighth and then one from ninth to 12th. The remaining eight teams are drawn from two further bands.
So, as things stand, it is possible that reigning world champions New Zealand, who celebrated their seven-year anniversary as the world’s top ranked team during November, could be drawn alongside two of last year's Rugby World Cup semi-finalists, South Africa and Argentina, in a pool every bit as tasty as the one that confronted England when paired with Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay in Pool A at RWC 2015.
Here, we take a look at how the various teams shaped up over the November window from a rankings perspective.
*Pre-November rankings in brackets
1. New Zealand (1) Down 1.79 points
The All Blacks rallied well after their record 18-match winning run came to an end with defeat against Ireland (40-29) in Chicago, beating Italy (68-10), Ireland (21-9) and France (24-19). Nevertheless, over the course of the month their lead at the top of the rankings was cut from 7.08 points to 4.32.
2. England (2) Up 0.97 points
There was no stopping Eddie Jones’ men as wins over South Africa (37-21), Fiji (58-15), Argentina (27-14) and Australia (37-21) took them past the 90-point mark in the rankings and equalled their best-ever run of 14 straight victories.
3. Australia (3) Up 1.02 points
The Wallabies marginally improved their rating points despite losing two of their five internationals in Europe. After opening with an emphatic win over Wales (32-8), Michael Cheika’s men repeated their one-point win over Scotland in the RWC 2015 quarter-final with a 23-22 victory and then edged France 25-23. But any hopes of a Grand Slam were dashed when they lost to Ireland (27-24), before a long season ended with a 37-21 defeat at Twickenham.
4. Ireland (6) Up 2.95 points
The biggest mover in terms of points and positions gained. A first-ever victory over the All Blacks set the tone for a wonderful campaign which also yielded wins against Canada (52-21) and Australia (27-24), the latter result a fine way for captain Rory Best to mark his 100th cap for Ireland. The only blot on their copybook was the 21-9 loss to the All Blacks in Dublin.
5. Wales (5) Up 0.06 points
Wales gained six hundredths of a point over the course of a campaign that produced three wins out of four but did little to silence the critics. Rob Howley’s men responded to the heavy defeat to Australia with hard-fought wins over Argentina (24-20) and Japan (33-30) before seeing off South Africa for only the third time in their history, 27-13.
6. South Africa (4) Down 3.06 points
A difficult campaign that saw South Africa suffer three straight losses after kicking off their tour with an entertaining 31-31 draw against the Barbarians at Twickenham. Defeats to England (37-21) and Wales (27-13) came either side of a first-ever loss to Italy (20-18) and resulted in the Springboks dropping to sixth to equal their lowest position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003.
7. Scotland (8) Up 0.23 points
The Scots climbed up to seventh, their highest position for five years, after an encouraging November campaign that brought wins over Argentina (19-16) and Georgia (43-16) following the heartache of the near-miss against Australia.
8. France (7) Down 0.62 points
Even though Les Bleus lost a bit of ground in the rankings, they will take heart from their performances in November. A clinical display of finishing saw them put 50 points on Samoa before the southern hemisphere’s top two, Australia (25-23) and New Zealand (24-19), were pushed to the limit.
9. Argentina (9) Down 0.40 points
The travel-weary Los Pumas hung onto ninth spot in the rankings despite losing four-tenths of a point across the month. A crushing 54-20 win against a inexperienced Japan side was followed by tight defeats to Wales (24-20) and Scotland (19-16) before their tour came to an end with a 27-14 loss to England.
10. Fiji (10th) Up 1.03 points
The reigning World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup champions made up for heavy defeats to the Barbarians (40-7) and England (58-15) to win the one that really mattered, against Japan, where defeat to the Brave Blossoms in the French town of Vannes would have cost them their place in the world’s top 10. Two tries from Levani Botia helped them secure a 38-25 victory.
11. Japan (12) Up 0.73 points
Jamie Joseph’s first run of matches in charge of the Brave Blossoms produced a mixed bag of results as the New Zealander tried out new combinations and blooded a lot of young players. Japan rallied well after the loss to Los Pumas to end Georgia’s seven-match unbeaten run at home with a creditable 28-22 victory in Tbilisi. Only Sam Davies’ last-gasp drop goal prevented them drawing with Wales before they lost out to Fiji in their final fixture.
12. Georgia (11) Down 1.09 points
Not the set of results the Lelos would have hoped for after going unbeaten on their historic summer tour of the Pacific. A narrow 20-16 win at home to Samoa was sandwiched by defeats to Japan and Scotland, resulting in them dropping down to 12th.
13. Italy (13) Up 0.24 points
Conor O’Shea’s side defied the nine-place difference between themselves and the Springboks in the rankings to record a famous 20-18 win over the Springboks in only their second-ever international in Florence. Unfortunately, they fell just short of backing it up against Tonga, conceding a last-minute penalty to lose 19-17 in Padova. As expected, they were well-beaten by a much-changed New Zealand side in their opening fixture.
14. Tonga (15) Up 2.47 points
Tonga enjoyed a clean sweep of wins in November with victories over Spain (28-13) and USA (20-17) preceding the win over Italy.
15. Samoa (14) Up 0.12 points
Samoa lose 14th place to Tonga despite gaining 12 hundredths of a point over the course of the month thanks to a 25-23 win over Canada in Grenoble. Earlier games against the higher-ranked France and Georgia were both lost.
16. Romania (16) Up 0.62 points
An impressive November from the Oaks who recorded wins over USA (23-10), Canada (21-16) and Uruguay (36-10) on home soil to consolidate 16th place.
17. USA (17) Down 0.94 points
The Eagles were far from disgraced in their two-match tour of Europe, but narrow defeats to Romania and Tonga, coupled with an earlier home loss to the Maori All Blacks, made for a 0-3 record in November. The 20-17 loss to Tonga was their best result against the ‘Ikale Tahi since the lone win of 1999.
18. Canada (18) Down 0.58 points
DTH van der Merwe closed to within one try of Winston Stanley’s Canadian record of 24 with a brace against Samoa but it wasn’t enough to prevent Mark Anscombe’s men ending their tour with a 25-23 defeat. In their two earlier matches Canada were beaten by Ireland (52-21) and Romania (21-16).
19. Russia (21) Up 1.34 points
Russia move back into the world’s top 20 after successfully defending their Cup of Nations title in Hong Kong, completing a clean sweep of wins against Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe and their hosts.
20. Namibia (20) – Unchanged
Namibia did not play in November
Outside of the top 20, Germany enjoyed a superb month with a 24-21 victory over the higher-ranked Uruguay boosting their standing considerably. They then went on to register back-to-back wins against Brazil to go through November unbeaten and move up two places to 24th, on the back of a gain of 1.28 points. Spain also got the better of Los Teros to make marginal gains (up 1.38 points and one place to 22nd), while the Netherlands (up 3.41 points to 35th) and Sweden (57th, up 1.94 points) also impressed in their Rugby Europe fixtures.
Away from Europe, Senegal’s shock Africa Cup Division 1B win over Tunisia saw them gain 1.55 rating points to move up seven places to 39th.
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