Even the keenest students of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings might struggle to know what Wales, Cayman Islands and the United Arab Emirates had in common in 2019.

The answer? They were among the 16 countries who bettered their previous best rating in the rankings over the course of a year like no other from a rankings’ perspective.

South Africa and Japan took advantage of the double points on offer during Rugby World Cup 2019, with their impressive showing at the tournament resulting in historical high ratings, while the rest all performed well in their respective regional competitions to break new ground.

Having captured a third Rugby World Cup title with victory over England, the Springboks closed the tournament on 94.19 points – just under two-and-a-half points more than when they last held top spot in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings back in November 2009.

The Springboks defeated Japan en route to the final but the host nation still posted a rankings best 82.08 points after beating Scotland to march into the quarter-finals for the first time.

Grand Slam success

Wales, meanwhile, hit a ratings high of 89.96 points back on 18 March, the Monday after their Grand Slam-clinching win over Ireland. When they rose to number one in the world at the end of August, their rating was roughly half a point lower at 89.43 points.

Uruguay enjoyed a fantastic Rugby World Cup campaign, memorably defeating the higher-ranked Fiji in Kamaishi, but their record rating of 69.09 points was achieved over six months before, following their impressive 32-25 win over the USA in the penultimate round of the Americas Rugby Championship.

South American rivals Brazil and Colombia also posted new ratings records of 59.05 and 51.92 points, respectively. Mexico and Cayman Islands flew the flag for the Rugby Americas North region.

In Asia, Japan were joined by three other countries – Hong Kong, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates – in breaking new ground.

While South Africa were the toast of Africa, Ghana too were celebrating a less heralded achievement in recording a record rating of 32.53 points following their 36-25 win over Botswana in November in the elimination stage of Rugby Africa Cup 2020.

The four remaining men’s teams to enjoy a new World Rugby Rankings rating high came from the Rugby Europe region in the Netherlands, Switzerland – the best-performing sides below champions Portugal in the Rugby Europe Trophy – and Luxembourg and Finland.

Fijiana on the rise

None of the top-ranking teams in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings pushed back their rating boundaries in 2019; however, seven others did, notably Fijiana.

Direct qualification for their first Rugby World Cup, at the expense of Samoa, resulted in Fijiana signing off the year with 52.62 points – 4.56 points more than when it started.

From Africa, Kenya and Zambia and Madagascar entered the rankings for the first time, while the Philippines became the only nation to achieve the feat in both the men’s and women’s game.

Czechia and China make up the seven-strong contingent of history makers.