A thoroughly dominant year for England was reflected in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, with the Red Roses enjoying a substantial lead over New Zealand at the top.
Less than half a point separated the sides at the start of 2021 but with the Red Roses beating all before them, including back-to-back wins over New Zealand, and the Black Ferns suffering a winless November, the gap has grown to 7.68 points.
Led by World Rugby Coach of the Year 2021, Simon Middleton, England won yet another Six Nations Grand Slam and by the year’s end they had extended their winning run to 18 matches, boosting their overall rating by 1.96 points, from 94.30 to 96.26 points.
After an unprecedented set of results, New Zealand hang on to second spot … but only just. Having had two years of inactivity, their November tour of Europe was always going to be tough but few people would have predicted that both England and France would do the double of the reigning world champions.
Those four straight defeats has cost the Black Ferns a fraction over five rating points and combined with a 4.11-point gain for France, the gap between the two nations has been reduced from nine points to just 0.15 of a point.
While New Zealand are still above them in the rankings, the victories over the Black Ferns in Pau and Castres lifted Les Bleues into third place for the first time in over two years.
Canada ended their November campaign on a winning note, defeating Wales 24-7 in Cardiff, but the margin of France’s victory over New Zealand was sufficient to push them down to fourth in the rankings.
MIXED BLESSINGS FOR IRELAND
In a year when Italy secured qualification to Rugby World Cup and Ireland didn’t, the teams traded places in the rankings. But it is Ireland who actually finished up as the higher-ranked of the two teams in seventh.
Two of their four wins in 2021 came against the Azzurre and they also beat Japan and USA in their two November internationals to boost their overall rating by 1.86 points to 76.54 points.
Buoyed by their runners-up finish in the Rugby World Cup 2021 European Qualification Tournament, Scotland moved into the top 10 for the first time in history. Wales moved in the other direction, falling two places to 11th.
Staying in Europe, Czechia recovered from a 31-12 defeat to Sweden in their first game to chalk up victories against Finland and Switzerland. The latter result was responsible for Czechia’s six-place rise from 44th to 38th.
It was a big year for African women’s rugby with the Springbok Women’s tour of Europe culminating in a match against the Barbarians at Twickenham in front of a crowd of 29,000.
Senegal, Tunisia and Ivory Coast also made their test debuts in women’s rugby and were added to the rankings as a result.
Meanwhile, back-to-back wins over Zimbabwe saw Uganda climb six places to 32nd. It was not such a good year for Kenya, though. The failure to win any of their five games saw them slip five places to 29th.