It was an eventful year for the World Rugby Men's Rankings, especially in the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2019 and during the tournament itself when positions changed after every match as opposed to the normal weekly updates.
After a decade of domination as the world's number one ranked team, the All Blacks were finally knocked off top spot, not once but three times. From 19 August through to South Africa lifting the Webb Ellis Cup on 2 November, the lead position in the rankings changed hands six times with four different names at the summit.
However, it was a team much further down the rankings who enjoyed the most meteoric rise in terms of positions gained with Bulgaria climbing a staggering 17 places from 91st to 74th, on the back of four wins out of four in Rugby Europe's Conference 2 South.
Only one other team enjoyed a double-digit rise, the Philippines climbing from 53rd to 41st after wins over Sri Lanka and Singapore saw them successfully defend their Asia Rugby Division I title. Division II champions, the United Arab Emirates, improved their starting position of 70th by eight places.
Once the team staring up from the foot of the rankings, Finland also enjoyed a fine year, moving up from 97th to 88th after wins against Austria, Norway and Moldova. A 22-0 defeat to Denmark in their final fixture prevented them climbing even higher. That result coupled with earlier victories against Austria and Norway helped to propel the Danes up to 72nd, from a starting position of 80th.
Competitive at the top
At the top end of the game, Wales and Ireland both made the headlines after becoming the world's number one team for the first time in the 16-year history of the rankings, while England enjoyed that status too, albeit for only one week, following their epic 19-7 win against the All Blacks in the RWC 2019 semi-final.
That victory was not only enough to see Eddie Jones’s side move top of the rankings for the first time since 2004, but it also saw the All Blacks drop to third behind the Springboks – their joint-worst ranking since the rankings were introduced in October 2003.
For Ireland, failure to get beyond the quarter-finals saw them slide from second at the turn of the year to fifth.
Japan started the year just outside of the top 10 but finished it in an historic high of eighth thanks to their run to the quarter-finals, a stage that had been beyond them in past tournaments. They did, temporarily, climb as high as sixth before losing to eventual champions South Africa in the last eight.
Spain also made it into unchartered territory, a return of eight wins from nine – their only defeat came against Georgia in the Rugby Europe Championship – putting them at an all-time high of 16th.
Matching that gain of five places, Victoria Cup champions Zimbabwe rose from 40th to 35th.
Tough year for Lithuania
At the other end of the spectrum, it wasn't such a good year for USA, who encountered a bit of a reality check after reaching an historic high of 12th in 2018. A winless Rugby World Cup campaign contributed to a fall of five places to 17th.
The only nation to suffer a double-figure drop in positions was Lithuania, five defeats on the bounce in the Rugby Europe Trophy resulting in them ending the year in 44th having started it in 34th.
Bosnia and Herzegovina and Austria both fell nine places, while Sweden and Paraguay had the next worst record with an eight-place demotion.