Not to be outdone by the Brave Blossoms, who reached the quarter-finals of a Rugby World Cup for the first time in their home tournament, Japan's women's 15s team finished the year with a flourish to end 2019 at their highest-ever World Rugby Women's Ranking of 12th.


While disappointed to lose back-to-back tests to Australia in July, the experience of playing the much higher-ranked Wallaroos obviously stood the Sakura 15s in good stead on their end-of-year tour to Europe.

First up came a match against an Italian side that finished runners-up in the Women's Six Nations 2019 but, against all the odds, Japan came away from L'Aquila with a 17-17 draw and their heads held high.

Glasgow and a date with an improving Scotland was the second and final destination on their tour of Europe and, on this occasion, they managed a 24-20 win, the net result a jump of four places in the rankings and a gain of 2.79 rating points.

Traditional Asia rivals Hong Kong fared equally well, moving from 23rd to 19th in a year which brought them three wins out of four, including back-to-back victories in their maiden test series in Europe, against the Netherlands in November.

Like Japan and Hong Kong, Russia find themselves in their highest-ever position with a 20-5 win over Germany in Bonn enough to send them up to 16th. Fiji also ended the year in an all-time high of 22nd after beating Samoa twice to qualify as Oceania's representatives for their first ever Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2021.

The biggest net gain, however, was from Kenya who moved up five places to 26th. Uganda were beaten three times in the year, as the Elgon Cup was won by the Lionesses, in addition to a 35-5 win against Madagascar in the Rugby Africa Women's Cup. Despite ending the season on a losing note against South Africa, Kenya picked up 2.37 rating points overall.

In the top 10, Canada and Australia both gained a place in moving up to third and fifth respectively, while New Zealand's reign at the top continues unbroken into 2020, although the world champions' cushion over England in second is now less than a point.

Photo: SRU