Only a disallowed England try near the end of a thoroughly compelling encounter against the All Blacks at Twickenham and a last-gasp score for the Springboks against France in Paris denied the Six Nations teams a clean sweep of wins on a weekend of many ups and downs, literally in the case of the World Rugby Rankings.
New Zealand increased their lead at the top of the rankings over Ireland to 3.46 points as a result of their 16-15 win against England, although for a moment it looked as though all their hard work in fighting their way back from 15-0 down had been undone when Sam Underhill turned Beauden Barrett inside and out to score with only a few minutes remaining. To the relief of the All Blacks, the TMO had spotted an earlier offside infringement and the visitors hung on for the narrowest of wins.
With no rating points available to Ireland irrespective of the outcome of their match against lower-ranked Argentina, which ended in a 28-17 win for the home side, third-placed Wales knew they had an opportunity to close the gap on their Celtic rivals if they could end a 13-test losing run against the Wallabies in Cardiff. A game of few chances looked to be heading for a draw at 6-6 but, to the relief of the home crowd, replacement Dan Biggar kept his nerve to kick the match-winning penalty. The 9-6 win was worth 0.35 of a point and moves Wales on to 86.70 points overall – 3.42 behind Ireland.
South Africa, ranked fifth, gained ground on England after they played their ‘get out of jail’ card to beat France 29-26 in Paris. Les Bleus held a 23-9 lead early in the second half, but the Springboks fought back to clinch the win with a try from Bongi Mbonambi in the last play of the game. Having received 0.91 of a point for their third straight victory at the Stade de France, South Africa are now only 1.6 points adrift of Eddie Jones’ men.
Seymour treble sinks Fiji
A superb second-half performance from Scotland against Fiji, in which winger Tommy Seymour completed a hat-trick, saw them turn what appeared to be a tricky fixture into a comfortable victory. Combined with Australia’s first defeat to Wales since 2008, the 54-17 victory saw Scotland replace the Wallabies in sixth place. Fiji, who defeated Scotland in June 2017, remain in the top 10 despite the defeat.
In Florence, Italy and Georgia met for only the second time at test level and it was the Azzurri who came out on top, as they did in the only previous encounter in 2003. Conor O’Shea’s side scored four tries in a 28-17 victory, including one by Tommaso Allan who also kicked two penalties and a conversion. Italy now swap places with the Lelos in the rankings and move up to 13th.
Will Hooley’s late penalty saw the USA beat Samoa for the first time in their history. While the USA Eagles remain in 15th place, the 30-29 win bring them to within six-hundredths of a point behind Georgia. Samoa are now 17th, equalling their lowest position since the rankings were first introduced in October 2003, with Romania moving above them after a 36-6 win over Portugal. The victory also assures Romania of their place in the Rugby Europe Championship 2019.
Meanwhile, Canada and Germany were both rewarded for victories in the opening round of the Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage with improved rankings. Canada move up two places to 21st after DTH van der Merwe’s first test hat-trick inspired them to a 65-19 win over Kenya, while Germany picked up 2.22 points for beating Hong Kong 26-9 to climb three to 26th. Hong Kong drop to 24th as a result.
Ukraine, meanwhile, jump two places to 35th – above Czechia and Colombia – as a result of their 48-24 win over hosts Hungary in Rugby Europe’s Conference 1 North. The defeat sees Hungary fall two places to 66th with Jamaica and Luxembourg the beneficiaries.