COVID-19 may have severely restricted the number of test matches played in 2020, but there was still significant movement in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings and World Rugby Women’s Rankings.

An impressive year for Rugby World Cup 2023 hosts France was reflected in a rise of three places from seventh at the start of the year to fourth by its end.

France’s only defeats in Fabien Galthié’s first season in charge of Les Bleus came at the hands of Scotland (28-17 at Murrayfield) in the Six Nations and the 22-19 (aet) defeat to England in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup at Twickenham.

Drawing on the pool of talent from the World Rugby Championship U20 winning sides of 2018 and 2019, Les Bleus were a side rejuvenated in 2020 and were only one kick away from capping a memorable year with some silverware.

Even in their Autumn Nations Cup final defeat to England, France came away with a lot of credit and also finished the year a fraction under four-and-a-half rating points better off in the rankings to take Wales’ place in the top four.

For Wales, the year started and ended with wins over Italy, but the team suffered a six-match losing run in between.

At the end of Wayne Pivac’s first season in charge, Wales dropped five places in the rankings to ninth.

Scotland endured a mixed set of results in the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup but still did enough to climb two places to seventh, while Argentina are hot on their heels in eighth.

Result of the year

Los Pumas produced the result of the year in beating New Zealand for the first time in 30 tests in an epic Tri-Nations encounter in Sydney.

Some 402 days had passed by since they last took to the field at Rugby World Cup 2019, but they showed no signs of rust and shocked the All Blacks 25-15.

Mario Ledesma’s charges also drew twice with the higher-ranked Australia and finished the year two points and two places better off.

With the All Blacks beaten twice in November (they also lost 24-22 to Australia) and England reeling off eight consecutive wins, the teams swapped places in the rankings in second and third.

Of all the sides to play at least five tests, Portugal made the biggest leap in 2020.

Under the leadership of former France winger, Patrice Lagisquet, Os Lobos took the prized scalps of Romania and Belgium in the Rugby Europe Championship before the competition ended early. They then beat Brazil twice in as many weeks on their return to action in November.

Portugal moved up four places to 20th as a result but are still four places adrift of their highest-ever position in the rankings.

Changing of the guard

New Zealand’s Black Ferns came into 2020 having topped the World Rugby Women’s Rankings for the past two-and-a-half years.

Up until November, it looked as though they might carry their status as the world’s best team in 2021, however, their inactivity coupled with an unbeaten year for England saw them dethroned by the Red Roses.

Not content to sweep all before them en route to a Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam, Simon Middleton’s team completed the double over a dangerous French side in November despite resting several frontline players.

With 94.30 points to their name, England will finish the year on top of the rankings with the Black Ferns relegated to number two.

Ireland were amongst the other notable improvers in the rankings. Adam Griggs’ side won three of their four matches in the Women’s Six Nations, beating Wales, Scotland and Italy, with their only defeat coming against England.

That set of results was enough for the girls in green to move up two places to eighth.

Rugby World Cup 2021 hopefuls Russia also gained two places and moved to a record high of 14th on the back of a 27-21 win over the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

It is their only game to date in the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship 2020, which forms part of the qualification process for RWC 2021.

Read more: The eight places still up for grabs at Rugby World Cup 2023 >>