Ownership of top spot in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini has changed hands for the fourth time in just two months.
With South Africa beating Scotland 30-15 in the early kick-off on Saturday, New Zealand knew they had to get a positive result against Ireland in Dublin to stay at number one.
However, they were no match for Ireland on the day and fell to a 29-20 defeat that could have been worse had the Irish converted their first-half dominance of territory and possession into more than James Lowe’s try.
Ireland were much more clinical in the second half, especially just after the break, when hooker Ronan Kelleher got his sixth international try of the year and flanker Caelan Doris scored to cap a man-of-the-match display.
New Zealand went into the weekend needing four tries to become the first team to score 100 tries in a calendar year but they fell two short of their goal, with Codie Taylor and the prolific Will Jordan touching down.
Like the All Blacks, Scotland were left to rue some uncharacteristic errors as their poor record against the Springboks continued. South Africa won for the 18th time in the last 20 meetings courtesy of tries in each half from Makazole Mapimpi and the kicking of Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard and Frans Steyn.
With South Africa gaining half a rating point for their victory and the All Blacks losing 1.34 points as a result of their second defeat in Dublin in as many games, the Springboks now hold a 1.8-point lead at the top.
But with points on the line in Paris, when France take on the All Blacks in a dress rehearsal for the opening game of Rugby World Cup 2023, and in London when England and South Africa re-enact the Rugby World Cup 2019 final, the situation could change again next weekend.
Steward ushers in a new era
England are up to third after a 32-15 win over an Australian side that has come out on the wrong side of Eddie Jones’ men in their last eight outings.
It wasn’t a vintage display from England but tries from the impressive rookie full-back Freddie Steward and try-machine Jamie Blamire at the start and the end of the match proved decisive in a contest dominated by penalties. All of the Wallabies’ points came from the boot of James O’Connor, while Owen Farrell kicked 17 points and Marcus Smith five for the home side.
Australia’s defeat and Ireland’s magnificent win over the All Blacks puts the Irish up to fourth and the Wallabies down to fifth.
France’s position and rating points total is unchanged following their 41-15 win over Georgia in Bordeaux, with Les Bleus remaining in sixth place on 84.25 points – just over one-and-a-half points above Scotland (82.78). Argentina are next, on 80.81 points, having boosted their rating by half a point with a five-try, 37-16 win over Italy in Treviso.
Fiji push Wales to the limit
Meanwhile, both Wales and Japan were given a scare by Fiji and Portugal, respectively, but they remain in eighth and ninth position after finding a way to win.
For 20 of the 55 minutes that Eroni Sau was off the field of play following a red card, Fiji played brilliantly with 13 men in Cardiff, as they defied the loss of two additional players to the sin-bin to lead 23-14 approaching the final quarter.
Wales turned to their dominant maul to start the comeback as Ryan Elias went over for his second try of the match before Alex Cuthbert signalled his return to international rugby with a well-taken try to put Wales ahead.
Louis Rees-Zammit then showed an electric turn of pace to touch down his own kick ahead and the crowd were given one last moment to cheer when Liam Williams capped a man-of-the-match display with a try at the death.
Over in Coimbra, Portugal’s encounter with Japan was a one-score game going into the closing stages but visiting full-back Ryohei Yamanaka ran in an intercept, just as Os Lobos pressed for what could have been the winning try, to secure the Brave Blossoms their first victory since eliminating Scotland from Rugby World Cup 2019.
Wins for Romania and Spain over the Netherlands and Russia in the latest round of the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 had a negligible impact on the rankings.
Canada pull through after being put on red alert
Canada, who had lost to Portugal the previous week, also had to dig deep to beat Belgium 24-0 in Brussels.
Kingsley Jones’ side played with 14 men for more than an hour after losing flanker Michael Smith to a red card when they were leading 10-0. But a try from replacement scrum-half Ross Braude and the kicking of half-back partner Spencer Jones secured them a morale-boosting win, which lifts them up one place in the rankings to 22nd. Hong Kong drop to 23rd as a result.
Belgium actually end the weekend higher up the rankings, swapping places with Brazil, despite having 1.3 points shaved off their total. The Black Devils are on 54.86 points – 0.1 of a point more than Brazil, whose 24-22 defeat to Zimbabwe in the opening game of the Stellenbosch Challenge cost them 1.54 points. Namibia beat Kenya 60-24 in the other match.
Poland are up into the world’s top 30 for the first time in over eight years after a 21-16 win over Germany in the Rugby Europe Trophy saw them climb three places to 29th. But the biggest rankings gain of the weekend belongs to Lithuania who shoot up 10 places to 43rd as a result of a 28-20 win away to Switzerland