Since 2003 and 2016 respectively, the World Rugby Men’s Rankings and the World Rugby Women’s Rankings have accurately gauged the balance of power in international rugby as well as providing a fascinating sub-plot to matches as lower-ranked teams look to cause an upset.

As a country’s fortunes ebb and flow, so does their ranking, with points awarded/deducted under a carefully formulated points exchange system that takes into account the result, the margin of victory/defeat and the relative strength of the teams competing against one another. Home advantage is also a consideration.

Only test matches involving full member unions of World Rugby count towards the World Rugby Men’s Rankings and the World Rugby Women’s Rankings, which are updated weekly, at Monday 12 noon. The exception to this was during Rugby World Cup 2019, when the rankings updated after every match. 

We take a look at some of the standout numbers behind the history of the rankings.

509 – The number of consecutive weeks New Zealand stayed at the top of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings before Wales supplanted them following a 13-6 victory over England on the eve of Rugby World Cup 2019. The All Blacks’ tenure as the number one team in the world ran for nearly 10 years, from 16 November, 2009 to 19 August, 2019.

3 – In an unprecedented period of instability at the top of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings, the lead changed hands three times in the five weeks leading up to Rugby World Cup 2019. New Zealand held sway either side of Wales climbing to the summit for the first time in history, before Ireland also broke new ground by reaching the number one position in time for the start of the tournament in Japan.

9 – Uruguay (19th) were nine places below Fiji (10th) in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings when they beat the Pacific Islanders 30-27 in Kamaishi at Rugby World Cup 2019. To further emphasise the magnitude of the shock, Los Teros had lost by more than 60 points to the same opponents less than a year beforehand.

10 – South Africa and Japan were ranked third and 13th respectively – a 10-place differential – before the teams met at the Brighton Community Stadium at RWC 2015. But the Brave Blossoms shocked the Springboks and the world to win 34-32 in one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history. The Brave Blossoms made it back into the top 10 as a result, while the Springboks fell three places to sixth.

15 – England ended a 15-year wait to return to the top of the men’s rankings when they defeated the All Blacks in the semi-final of RWC 2019. It was the first time they had held the position since 14 June, 2004. Unfortunately for Eddie Jones’ men, after waiting a decade and a half to get back to the top of the pile, their stay there lasted only a week.

17 – Bulgaria were the biggest climbers in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings in 2019, moving up 17 places from 91st to 74th position following a clean sweep of wins in Rugby Europe’s Conference 2 South.

New Zealand dominant in women’s rankings too

234 – The number of weeks the World Rugby Women’s Rankings have been in existence. First introduced at the start of February 2016, the women’s rankings now include 56 countries, with Zambia, Madagascar and Colombia the most recent additions.

2 – New Zealand and England are the only teams to occupy top spot in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings since they were introduced four years ago. The Black Ferns have been ever-present at number one, bar a nine-week period between June and August 2019 when the Red Roses held sway.

4 – Having won two Women’s Six Nations titles in 2013 and 2015, Ireland were one of the pre-eminent forces in the women’s game and were ranked as high as fourth during the embryonic stages of the rankings. However, their recent fortunes have not been as kind and the team slipped down to a historic low of 10th before consecutive wins over Scotland and Wales earlier this year saw them rally slightly and move up to eighth place.

6 – The number of European teams currently residing in the top 10 of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings. All of the Six Nations participants bar Scotland are there – England, France, Italy, Wales and Ireland – plus Spain. Scotland had several opportunities to break new ground and join the top 10 over the last 12 months but failed to take them.

11 – While the men’s team are currently enjoying their status as the world’s number one team following their third Rugby World Cup triumph, the Springbok Women have never been in the world’s top 10. Their best position of 11th was last achieved on 30 September, 2019. They are now two places further back in 13th.