A busy weekend of international rugby resulted in some significant changes in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings, with no less than 11 teams improving their position and 13 losing ground.
Australia and France set rugby fans up for a weekend of drama with a compelling test match in Brisbane that went right down to the wire.
An experimental Les Bleus team looked set for a first victory against the Wallabies in Australia in 12 attempts, a run dating back to 1990, when they led 21-20 with only seconds left.
A brace of tries from sevens winger Gabin Villière had put them in pole position but the tourists failed to kick the ball dead when the clock was in the red and ended up conceding a penalty right in front of the posts.
Tries from Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Michael Hooper and Noah Lolesio’s boot had kept Australia within striking distance up until that point and Lolesio made no mistake when presented with the match-winning opportunity.
Australia are now the higher-ranked of the two teams in fifth with Les Bleus slipping down a place to sixth.
Four days later, in a game just as dramatic, Wales and Argentina fought out a 20-20 draw in Cardiff.
The expectation was that Wales would run away with the match once Los Pumas lost full-back, Juan Cruz Mallia, to a red card approaching the half-hour mark.
But the visitors showed tremendous resolve and no little skill to defy the one-man disadvantage and turn a 6-3 deficit into a 20-6 lead, thanks to tries either side of the interval from Pablo Matera and Jerónimo de la Fuente.
Will Rowlands and Tomos Williams responded with tries as Wales rallied and the home side could have won the game had Jarrod Evans not missed with a penalty attempt in the last minute.
Los Pumas picked up 0.61 of a rating point for the draw but remain in ninth place. Meanwhile, Wales drop a place as a consequence of Australia’s victory and their own failure to win.
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Good hook line
The rest of the fixtures involving the teams ranked second to fourth in the rankings did not lead to any positional change because they all went as expected.
However, no-one would have predicted that hookers would have accounted for 11 of the 29 tries (38 per cent) scored by the winning teams.
The All Blacks, who are ranked second behind South Africa, were given a thorough examination by Fiji but a quartet of tries by replacement Dane Coles in the space of 24 second-half minutes saw them pull clear and win 57-23.
Adam Radwan starred on debut with a hat-trick as England produced a result that reflected the 20-place differential in the rankings between themselves and Canada.
The Newcastle flyer became only the sixth England player to achieve the feat and the first since Jeremy Guscott in 1989.
It was a particularly good day for the Newcastle club as hooker Jamie Blamire also touched down three times in the 70-14 win in what was only his second test appearance.
Marcus Smith slotted all nine conversions and then learned he’d been called up by the British and Irish Lions as injury cover for Finn Russell.
Meanwhile, in Dublin, Ronan Kelleher completed a brilliant day for hookers by emulating Coles’ achievement with four tries as Ireland brushed aside the USA Eagles, 71-10.
Debutants Robert Baloucoune and Nick Timoney were also among the tries as Ireland racked up their third-highest score in test rugby.
The visitors had to play with 14 men for more than an hour after flanker Riekert Hattingh was shown a red card. But, even so, the Eagles will be disappointed they were unable to build on a promising showing against England at Twickenham last week.
In one of several Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifying matches taking place last weekend, Samoa overcame a sluggish first-half performance in Auckland to run in five tries and beat Tonga 42-13.
The teams will engage once again in Hamilton this weekend to decide the Oceania 1 spot but this time with Samoa as the higher-ranked team.
Samoa’s biggest-ever win in a Rugby World Cup qualifier against Tonga sees them move up to 13th after gaining 1.16 points.
Tonga drop down two places to 15th with Italy the other team to benefit.
Other Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifiers to affect the rankings involved teams in Europe, South America and Africa.
Portugal return to the world’s top 20 for the first time in four months after an emphatic 61-28 Rugby Europe Championship win over the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Chile struck the first blow in the Sudamérica Rugby 3 Naciones, defeating Brazil 23-13 in Montevideo.
The win earned Los Condores 1.39 rating points – enough for them to overtake Switzerland and move into 28th place.
In the Rugby Africa Cup, the results of midweek matches and those played on Saturday led to net gains for Senegal and Madagascar.
The teams enjoyed differing fortunes on the qualification front, however, with Senegal making it through to the next phase – along with Kenya, Namibia and the Ivory Coast – but the Makis are out.