Home advantage counted for a lot as the July international window got off to a dramatic start with hard-fought wins for 14-man Australia and South Africa among others, leading to a number of changes in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
The Wallabies defied the loss of Darcy Swain to a 34th-minute red card to beat England 30-28 and end an eight-game losing run against one of their keenest sporting rivals, while South Africa left it until the last possible minute to complete a stunning 32-29 comeback against Wales.
Both results were bookended by New Zealand’s 42-19 win over Ireland and Argentina’s 26-18 victory against Scotland in the last of Saturday’s matches, making it a day to remember for the SANZAAR nations.
🚨 Last-minute winning kick klaxon 🚨— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) July 2, 2022
🇿🇦 Damian Willemse wraps the 32-29 win with the clock in the red pic.twitter.com/y0VbvKbZoC
Having seen the All Blacks avenge their November defeat to Ireland in Dublin in such convincing fashion, South Africa knew that anything less than victory at Loftus Versfeld would see them toppled from their position as the world’s number one ranked team.
Two tries from Louis Rees-Zammit silenced the home crowd as Wales led 18-3 but with the visitors down to 14, 13 and then, at one point, 12 players, the momentum of the match shifted in favour of the Springboks. But Wales refused to lie down in the face of adversity and when Dewi Lake tied the scores with a few minutes to go, captain Dan Biggar had the chance to put Wales two points in front with the conversion.
Biggar, who became Wales’ leading points-scorer against South Africa during the match, put his effort wide and was then sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on with the clock in the red. Damian Willemse kept his nerve to slot the resulting penalty and break Welsh hearts.
Instead of reclaiming the number one spot in the rankings, New Zealand had to be content with a one-place rise to second. After a bright opening from Ireland which brought a try for veteran winger Keith Earls, the All Blacks responded through Jordie Barrett before taking the game away from Ireland in a devastating eight-minute spell just before half-time that brought them 21 unanswered points.
The All Blacks added two more tries in the second half, including a second for Ardie Savea, to earn themselves just under one rating point.
With South Africa not picking up any additional points for their win over Wales due to the large points differential between the teams before home advantage is factored in, the gap between the world’s top two teams is down to just 0.89 of a point with the Springboks leading the way on 90.60 and the All Blacks on 89.72.
France made it nine wins on the bounce – one short of their all-time record – with a 42-23 win against Japan in Toyota. The 0.37 of a point added to their score wasn’t enough though to prevent Les Bleus from being overtaken by the All Blacks in the rankings and they drop to third, on 89.24 points. Ireland remain in fourth place.
Following their win at the Optus Stadium, Australia have swapped places with England. The Wallabies are now in fifth on 84.68 points with England sixth on 83.74.
Argentina are now above Scotland in the rankings following their 26-18 win in Jujuy. Los Pumas have improved their rating by 0.82 of a point, taking them up to seventh on 80.98 points, while Scotland drop to eighth, on 81.4 points.
Wales and Japan, meanwhile, remain in the top 10, on 79.27 and 77.90 points respectively.
In the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup, Fiji began their bid for a sixth title with an emphatic 36-0 win against Tonga in Suva. The win did not improve their rating, though, due to the 8.9-point differential between the teams before home advantage is factored in.
Italy are now just one place below Fiji after jumping two places to 12th on the back of their impressive 45-13 win against Romania in Bucharest. Georgia and Samoa both dropped down a place due to the Azzurri’s progress.
Romania lost as many places as Italy gained, resulting in the USA and Uruguay improving their ranking by one place.
The most significant change to the rankings came further down with Algeria reaching a new high of 82nd after their exceptional 35-12 win against 14-man Senegal in the Rugby Africa Cup 2022 brought about a jump of eight places.
Ranked 90th ahead of kick-off, 45 places below their opponents, Algeria led 13-12 at half-time and their numerical advantage told in the second half as they completed a famous victory. Senegal are now ranked 54th after a fall of nine places.
Algeria’s prize is a place in the Rugby Africa Cup semi-finals, where they will play Kenya, 42-7 winners against East African rivals Uganda. That win moved Kenya above Switzerland and Colombia into 33rd, while Uganda stayed 52nd but knowing that their Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification dream is over.
Namibia will face Zimbabwe in the other semi-final on Wednesday with both teams still ranked as they were before the weekend, in 24th and 27th place. However, Zimbabwe have improved their rating score by roughly half a point, moving them closer to Belgium who fell to a 45-0 defeat to hosts Canada.