Today (Friday) marks the ninth anniversary of New Zealand's unbroken reign at the top of the World Rugby Rankings. In that time (3,287 days), the All Blacks have won 109 of their 122 matches played, posting 4,340 points – almost exactly double the number conceded – and scoring an incredible 557 tries at an average of 4.6 per game.
Graham Henry was at the helm for the initial part of the run before Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2012. Between the two of them, they have presided over an unprecedented decade of success with New Zealand claiming two Rugby World Cups, in 2011 and 2015, seven Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship titles and nine Bledisloe Cup-winning campaigns, not to mention the host of personal and collective World Rugby Awards that have come their way.
In 2013, the All Blacks became the first team to go through a calendar year unbeaten in the professional era (14 tests), although it was six years earlier that their cushion at the top of the rankings was at its peak – 9.41 points, following a June victory over the soon-to-be Rugby World Cup hosts France.
The current lead of 3.46 points is slender by comparison but is still unassailable, for at least one more week, even if Ireland do a number on the All Blacks as they did in Chicago in 2016. However, the gap can close to a fraction under a third of a point in the event of a big home win.
The long-awaited Aviva Stadium encounter is one of 15 internationals that count towards the rankings this weekend. We take a look at all the various permutations as well as rounding up all the latest team news and highlighting the key match stats.
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Ireland (2) v New Zealand (1)
Ireland's most-capped full-back, Rob Kearney, a member of the Ireland team that beat the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016, returns to the side in place of Jordan Larmour. The only other change in the backs comes at outside centre where Garry Ringrose renews his midfield partnership with Bundee Aki. Will Addison drops out of the match=day 23 altogether. There are also two changes in the pack with Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier, a late call-up for Dan Leavy, replacing Iain Henderson and Sean O'Brien at second-row and openside flanker.
Ryan Crotty replaces an injured Sonny Bill Williams in the only change to the All Blacks team. Crotty's place on the bench is taken by Anton Lienert-Brown. Seven of Saturday's starting line-up, Crotty included, were on the losing side in Chicago
- The sides have played each other 30 times, with 28 wins to the All Blacks, one to Ireland and one draw. The last match was in Dublin in November 2016, which the All Blacks won 21-9
- Aaron Smith will play his 82nd test match and overtake Justin Marshall as the most capped All Blacks scrum-half in history
- Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock will set a new record for an All Blacks starting second-row combination, starting in their 50th test together
- Beauden Barrett has become the first player to score 100 international points this year. He is on 106 points
New Zealand cannot surrender top spot even with a heavy defeat to Ireland as there would still be 0.32 rating points between the teams. Ireland cannot drop from second even with a loss by more than 15 points as they will still have at least a 1.99 cushion if Wales also win.
Wales (3) v Tonga (12)
In a side showing a total of 14 changes, Ellis Jenkins will captain Wales for the second time in a starting back-row featuring newcomer Aaron Wainwright. Loose-head prop Wyn Jones also makes his first start for Wales, with all nine of his current appearances coming from the bench, while Jake Ball has overcome injury to return to the Welsh ranks for the first time in a year. Seb Davies wins his second Wales cap at number eight, while in the backs, uncapped full-back Jonah Holmes is joined in the back three by British and Irish Lions winger Liam Williams on the occasion of his 50th Wales cap. Dan Biggar returns to the fly-half jersey with Tomos Williams also promoted from the bench to join him at half-back, while Owen Watkin and Tyler Morgan start at centre.
For Tonga, veteran second-row Sitiveni Mafi comes in for Sam Ulufonua and Ma'afu Fia makes his test debut at tight-head in a match-day 23 showing minimal changes to the one that warmed up for the Wales clash with a 49-38 win over the French Barbarians. Vunga Lilo will win his first cap since RWC 2015 at full-back.
- Victory in Cardiff on Saturday would make it eight wins in a row for Warren Gatland’s side, a feat which has only been bettered twice. The all-time record of 11 straight wins was set between 1907-10
- Wales have won all eight previous tests against Tonga dating back to 1986
- The last meeting was played on neutral ground, at Eden Park in Auckland in June 2017, and ended in a 24-6 win for Wales
Wales cannot improve their position of third even if they win well and Ireland lose by a big margin. Tonga will fall one place if they lose and Italy beat Australia but will climb above Japan if they win and Japan don’t. Wales will drop below a victorious England if they lose and also South Africa if the Springboks beat Scotland. A record-equalling high of ninth is possible for Tonga if they win by over 15 points and France lose by the same margin.
England (4) v Japan (11)
Bath's in-form winger Joe Cokanasiga wins his first cap in a side showing 11 changes to the one that narrowly missed out against the All Blacks. Elsewhere in the backs, Jack Nowell makes his first start at centre in an England jersey and is partnered in midfield by Alex Lozowski, while George Ford and Danny Care have been promoted from the bench to form the new half-back partnership. Ford captains England in his 50th test. There are three changes to the front row with Exeter Chiefs’ props Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams starting alongside Saracens’ hooker Jamie George. England’s starting front row against New Zealand are named on the bench. Charlie Ewels will start in the second row – alongside vice-captain Maro Itoje – in place of the injured George Kruis. In other changes to the forward pack, Courtney Lawes will play blindside flanker with Mark Wilson switching from number eight to openside to allow Zach Mercer to make his first start for England at the back of the pack. Uncapped Worcester back-row Ted Hill is named on the bench.
Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph has made wholesale changes to the team beaten 69-31 by the All Blacks in Tokyo a fortnight ago. Hooker Atsushi Sakate and tight-head Ji-won Koo join Keita Inagaki in a new-look front-row, while Uwe Helu partners Wimpie van der Walt in the second row. The back row sees two changes with Masakatsu Nishikawa and Kazeki Himeno coming in on the openside and at number eight respectively. Michael Leitch, one of six survivors from the successful RWC 2015 campaign, captains the side from blindside. Another RWC 2015 veteran Fumiaki Tanaka comes into the side at scrum-half and Timothy Lafaele switches to outside centre to accommodate the arrival of Ryoto Nakamura in the 12 jersey. Kenki Fukuoka retains his place on the left wing but Akihito Yamada is a new addition on the other flank. William Tupou moves from outside centre to full-back.
- England and Japan have played each other six times before but only once in a test – at RWC 1987, when England won 60-7 at the Concord Oval in Sydney
- England's last two tests have been settled by a point (15-16 v New Zealand and 12-11 v South Africa)
- Japan have won two and drawn one of their last nine tests
- Japan have won 11 of their last 17 matches in Europe, drawing one and losing five. Their last game on the continent saw them draw 23-23 with France last November
An England win will have no impact on rankings given the 10.3 rating points difference between the teams. But they could drop as low as sixth if they lose by more than 15 points and other teams around them win as emphatically. Japan could climb as high as ninth – equalling their highest ever ranking – if they win by over 15 points and France's game against Argentina doesn't end in a draw.
Scotland (6) v South Africa (5)
Of the six changes made by Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, five are in the pack. London Irish prop Gordon Reid is set for his first involvement in the November series as the starting loose-head, with the remaining four those rotated or rested for last weekend’s home win over Fiji. Vice-captain and hooker Stuart McInally and second-row Jonny Gray return from the bench to start once more, with Ben Toolis coming in as Gray's partner. Hamish Watson comes back into the starting back-row. The final change to the pack is a positional switch for last Saturday’s man-of-the-match winning debutant Sam Skinner, who starts in the blindside flank position where he finished the Fiji test, having started in the second-row. Huw Jones is the only new addition to the backline, at outside centre.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has made six changes to his match-day squad from the one that came from behind to beat France in Paris last week, including a first test start at scrum-half Embrose Papier. Papier replaces Faf de Klerk, the World Rugby Men's 15s Player of the Year nominee, who has been released back to his club side Sale Sharks. RG Snyman also comes into the second row with Eben Etzebeth still recovering from a foot injury sustained against England, while Pieter-Steph du Toit moves from the second row to blindside flanker. In the only other change to the pack, Duane Vermeulen reverts to number eight with Warren Whiteley sidelined with a calf strain, Ivan van Zyl comes into the match-day 23 as the replacement scrum-half, while Lood de Jager will provide second-row cover on the bench.
- The Springboks have won their last five tests against Scotland. Their last defeat against the Scots came at Murrayfield in 2010
- Scotland have only lost one of their last nine tests at Murrayfield
- South Africa and Scotland have played each other 16 times at Murrayfield, with the Springboks winning 12 of those tests
- Handré Pollard will become the second most-capped Springbok fly-half when he makes his 38th test appearance on Saturday, surpassing Butch James' total
Scotland will climb above South Africa with victory and could jump up to third if they win by over 15 points and England and Wales are beaten by same margin. South Africa will climb to third if they win and England and Wales fail to beat lower ranked opponents. Scotland will fall below Australia if they lose and the Wallabies win.
France (8) v Argentina (9)
Les Bleus coach Jacques Brunel has made a couple of alterations to his backline for the visit of Los Pumas. Gaël Fickou is rewarded for a fine start to the Top 14 season with a call-up at centre, with Geoffrey Doumayrou the man to miss out, while Yoann Huget wins his 52nd cap on the wing in place of Damian Penaud. Hooker Guilhem Guirado will continue to lead from the front.
The only charge to the Argentina line-up comes at scrum-half where Gonzalo Bertranou is preferred to Tomas Cubelli, who drops to the bench. Mariano Galarza, recently released by English club Gloucester, is set to win his first Los Pumas cap in over three years after being named among the replacements.
- France have won 35 matches, Argentina 14 and there has been one draw in the 50 previous test matches between the teams
- The sides have been drawn together in Pool C at RWC 2019
- France won 27-0 the last time the sides met in Tucuman in 2016
- Argentina won 18-13 on their last visit to France, at the Stade de France in 2014
France cannot climb above Australia even if they win well and Australia lose by over 15 points to Italy. France and Argentina will swap places if the game ends in a draw or Argentina win. France can fall to 10th with a heavy loss to Argentina … potentially as low as 12th if Tonga beat Wales by over 15 and Japan beat England by any margin.
Italy (13) v Australia (7)
Winger Jordan Petaia has been denied a test debut after having to withdraw from the match-day 23 at the 11th hour due to a hamstring niggle. The 18-year old was due to become the third-youngest player to ever represent Australia but pulled up sore at training. Petaia will be replaced in the starting side by Marika Koroibete. Jake Gordon makes his debut at scrum-half and is partnered by Matt To’omua, who will wear the Wallabies No.10 jersey for the first time in over five years with Bernard Foley shifting to inside centre and Kurtley Beale to the bench. Israel Folau lines up at full-back instead of on the wing. There has been one late forced change to the reserves with Rory Arnold also succumbing to injury after suffering a fractured eye socket at training on Thursday.
Azzurri coach Conor O'Shea has opted to make only one change to his match-day 23 with Jayden Hayward coming into the starting line-up at full-back for Luca Sperandio. The last six of Hayward's 10 test caps have come off the bench, as a replacement wing/centre.
- Italy have never beaten Australia in 17 previous tests dating back to 1983
- Australia last played Italy in 2017 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, with the Wallabies pulling away late to record at 40-27 victory
- The Wallabies last played in Padua ten years ago with Sekope Kepu, James O’Connor and Quade Cooper each making their test debuts in the 30-20 win
- In winning his 117th cap, Adam Ashley-Cooper will become the third-most capped Australian of all-time ahead of former Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe
Australia will climb above Scotland if they win and the Scots lose. It is not possible for the Wallabies to slip to a new low in the rankings of eighth even with a heavy loss. Italy could climb as high as 10th if they win by over 15 points and Fiji lose to Uruguay. Italy will drop below USA if they lose and USA win.
Georgia (14) v Samoa (17)
Georgia coach Milton Haig has made three changes to his starting line-up – all in the backs – from the team that lost to Italy in Florence. Fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze, who played at the World Rugby U20 Championship earlier this year, makes his senior debut as Vasil Lobzhanidze's half-back partner, while Giorgi Kveseladze comes in for Giorgi Koshadze on the right wing and Lasha Khmaladze is named at full-back instead of Soso Matiashvili. There are two uncapped players on the bench in props Guram Gogichashvili, another U20 player, and Beka Gigashvili.
Piula Fa'asalele and Dwayne Polataivaia will start in a Samoa side showing two changes of personnel and one positional to the one that narrowly lost to the USA in San Sebastian. The tight five will remain unchanged unless Motu Matu'u fails a late fitness test, in which case Manu Leiataua will step in. But Toulouse flanker Piula Fa'asalele is a new addition on the blindside with Josh Tyrell switching to number eight. Auckland-based scrum-half Dwayne Polataivaia is the only new face in the backline and will partner veteran fly-half Tusi Pisi in his 10th test appearance.
- The sides have met four times previously with Georgia winning twice, Samoa once and the one draw
- Both of Georgia's wins came in Tbilisi
- The Lelos have gone three tests without a win, their worst run for six years
Samoa must win by over 15 points to climb above Georgia in the rankings. Georgia cannot regain 13th spot from Italy even if they win by over 15 points and Italy lose by the same margin, as that would still leave 0.04 of a point between them.
Romania (16) v USA (15)
Oaks coach Thomas Lievremont has named an unchanged back division but the pack that started last week's win over Portugal has been completely overhauled with only second-rower Adrian Motoc retaining his place. Front-rows Ionel Badiu, Andrei Radoi and Alexandru Gordas and loose forwards Adrian Ion and Johannes van Heerden are all promoted from the bench, while second-row Marian Drenceanu and number eight Cristi Chirica are new additions to the squad.
The Eagles' starting line-up features a few changes with Marcel Brache coming in at full-back and captain Blaine Scully reverting to the wing. Having returned to fitness, John Quill takes his place in the back-row with Hanco Germishuys moving to the bench. Replacement scrum-half Nick Boyer, a World Rugby U20 Trophy winner in 2012, is in line to make his debut if called upon from the bench.
- USA have yet to lose a test match in nine outings this year
- USA are one point short of scoring 200 in tests against Romania, while Romania need one point to reach a century in the fixture
- The Eagles have won six of the eight matches between the teams but lost the last meeting 23-10 in Bucharest
USA could climb to a new all-time high of 13th if they win by more than 15 points and Italy lose. Romania will swap places with Samoa if they lose and Samoa beat Georgia.
Uruguay (18) v Fiji (10)
Former Uruguay U20 hooker Manuel Ardao is handed his debut in what is an otherwise experienced Los Teros line-up boasting a total of 564 caps. There are six half-centurions in the side in prop Mateo Sanguinetti, captain and flanker Juan Manual Gaminara, number eight Alejandro Nieto, wings Gaston Mieres and Leandro Leivas and full-back Rodrigo Silva. Leandro Segredo wins his third cap at openside.
Flying Fijian coach John McKee has reacted to last week's heavy loss to Scotland by making seven changes of personnel and a couple of positional switches. Hooker Mesulame Dolokoto, uncapped second-row Albert Tuisue and back-row Semi Kunatani are new additions to the pack with Peceli Yato moving from openside to number eight. Henry Seniloli is promoted from the bench and swaps places with Frank Lomani at scrum-half. Eroni Sau will make his debut on the left wing, while Josua Tuisova lines up on the right wing. As a result, Vereniki Goneva shifts to outside centre and the final change comes at full-back where Metusela Talebula replaces Setareki Tuicuvu.
- Fiji won 47-15 when the teams met in Milton Keynes at the last Rugby World Cup
- Fiji also won the only other previous meeting: 39-24 in L'Aquila in August 1999
- Uruguay need six tries for 700 in tests and 52 points for 6,000
- Juan Manuel Gaminara has won 20 of his 26 tests in charge
- Felipe Berchesi only needs four points to overtake Federico Sciarra as Uruguay's leading all-time points scorer. He is currently on 258 points to Sciarra's 261
Fiji will fall at least one place in defeat and could drop as low as 13th if Japan and Tonga avoid defeat and Italy beat Australia. Uruguay will climb to 16th if they win by over 15 points and Samoa lose to Georgia and Romania fall to beat USA.
Spain (20) v Namibia (22)
Second-row Mikael de Marco and Agen team-mate, scrum-half Lucas Rubio, make their Los Leones debuts alongside another France-based player, full-back Luke Levy. Only three players – loose-head and captain Fernando Lopez and wingers Federico Castiglioni and Ignacio Contardi – have won more than 10 caps in an inexperienced match-day 23.
Injury-hit Namibia have been forced into a handful of changes to their starting line-up. Influential fly-half Cliven Loubser is sidelined while experienced full-back Chrysander Botha and back-row Thomasau Forbes also miss out. Henrique Olivier is tasked with replacing Loubser, while Johan Tromp and vice-captain Rohan Kitshoff come in for Botha and Forbes respectively. Experienced second-row Tjiuee Uanivi, who missed the first test due to club commitments, replaces Adriaan Ludick. The other change is in midfield where Justin Newman wins his 12th cap alongside captain Darryl de la Harpe. Prop Jason Benade, scrum-half Wihan von Wielligh and full-back Chad Plato could all make their debuts from the bench.
- The last two games saw the sides separated by two points, with one win apiece
- Namibia's 34-32 win at the World Rugby Nations Cup 2016 was the Welwitschias' one and only win in the five tests between the sides
- Last week's 47-20 defeat to Russia was Namibia's first in seven matches
Namibia will be higher ranked of nations if they win by over 15 points and could return to the world's top 20. Namibia can fall one or two places if they lose by more than 15 points and Hong Kong and Portugal win by the same margin. Spain can fall two places with a heavy defeat if combined with a Canada win.
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RWC 2019 REPECHAGE
Hong Kong (24) v Kenya (29)
Only three players remain from last week’s 26-9 loss to Germany with Hong Kong anticipating a different challenge from Kenya. Captain James Cunningham is the only survivor in the pack and he is joined in the second-row by Fin Field. The new-look front-row comprises Ben Higgins, Ben Roberts and Dylan Rogers, while Hong Kong’s most capped international Nick Hewson takes up his familiar position at number six to win his 56th cap. Toby Fenn comes in at seven and Kane Boucaut at number eight. Bryn Phillips earns the start at scrum-half, pairing with Hong Kong sevens captain Ben Rimene. Ben Axten-Burrett will partner in the midfield with Tyler Spitz, who retains his starting position from last week at outside centre. Salom Yiu, the only ever-present in the back three, is joined by emerging star Max Denmark on the left wing and former captain Jamie Hood at full-back.
Second-row Wilson K’opondo takes over the captaincy from the injured Davis Chenge as the Simbas make six changes to the squad beaten 65-19 by Canada in round one. Openside Elkeans Musonye, scrum-half Felix Ayange and winger Nelson Oyoo are also included from the start, while Ephraim Oduor and Dalmus Chituyi are new additions on the bench.
- Hong Kong have scored 40 points or more in their last two meetings with Kenya (both wins)
- Kenya's only win in five previous encounters was 34-10 in Nairobi in August 2016, although they did draw a year later 19-19
Hong Kong will climb one place if they win by over 15 and Namibia lose by the same margin. If Portugal fail to beat Lithuania by over 15 points then a two-place gain is possible. Kenya will fall one place below Chile with defeat, two if Poland beat the Netherlands in the Rugby Europe Trophy. Hong Kong will fall three places with any form of defeat and five if the margin is greater than 15. Kenya will become the higher ranked of the two nations if they win by over 15, climbing to 26th or one higher if Portugal lose emphatically.
Canada (21) v Germany (26)
While the 23-man matchday squad remains unchanged, Matt Tierney, Mike Sheppard, who scored on his international debut last weekend, Lucas Rumball and Ciaran Hearn slot into the Canadian starting 15 in place of Jake Ilnicki, Brett Beukeboom, Matt Heaton and Nick Blevins. Phil Mack will once again captain the side from scrum-half.
The only change to the Germany starting line-up comes on the left wing where Carlos Soteras-Merz replaces Mathieu Ducau. Backs Hagen Schulte and Harris Aounallah are new additions on the bench.
- This is the first meeting between the teams
- Canada managed their third-highest score in test history in beating Kenya 65-17 in round one
- In that match, DTH van der Merwe became only the fifth Canadian to score a test hat-trick
- Germany kept the opposition try-less for the first time in two years (19 matches) in beating Portugal 26-9 in round one
Germany will be higher ranked of nations if they win by over 15 points and could equal their highest ever ranking of 22nd. Germany will fall one place below Brazil if they lose narrowly or two if the margin of defeat is over 15. it is not possible for Canada to improve their position.
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