The honour of the most-improved team in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini in 2022 goes to … Algeria.
Algeria were the surprise package in the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, finishing third following wins over Senegal (35-12) and Zimbabwe (20-12) with a narrow defeat to Kenya in between.
And as a reward for beating two teams significantly higher than them in the rankings at the Marseilles-based tournament, Algeria picked up five full rating points which resulted in a massive gain of 17 places.
Algeria are now at an all-time high of 73rd and will be targeting further improvement when the Rugby Africa Cup takes place next year.
Only two other countries enjoyed double-digit rises in the rankings, with both Sweden and Bulgaria moving up 11 places following their exploits in the Rugby Europe Conference system.
Promotion to the Rugby Europe Trophy, following a Grand Slam-winning season in Conference 1 North, was the catalyst for Sweden motoring up the rankings.
After away wins against Latvia and Hungary, Sweden secured the title with a 37-17 home win against Czechia in October.
Sweden’s first game up in the third-tier Trophy ended in a heavy 69-12 defeat to Switzerland but a year of progress can be measured by them finisnhing 2022 in 41st position.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria swept all before them in winning Conference 2 South.
Wins over Andorra, Turkey, Malta and Israel made for a perfect record and led to Bulgaria moving up to 59th.
Other teams to significantly improve on their ranking position from one year to the next include Finland (+9), Paraguay, Uganda and Serbia (+8).
Switzerland also had an eye-catching year. A narrow defeat to Germany was the only blip on a marvellous season which began with a 22-18 win over former Rugby Europe Championship outfit, Belgium.
On the back of their four wins, the Swiss climbed seven places to 28th.
🔝 @IrishRugby move to No.1 following their historic series win over New Zealand— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) July 18, 2022
This is the second time they have occupied top spot in the Men's World Rankings, powered by @capgemini pic.twitter.com/mH1MXbuy1o
Ireland and France rise to the top
In terms of the top-ranked nations, you need look no further than the teams occupying first and second place.
Ireland started 2022 in fourth place but are now on top of the world having boosted their rating by 4.1 points.
The historic 2-1 series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand and an unbeaten Autumn Nations Series was the key to their success.
Ireland’s only defeat of the year came against France in Paris and effectively cost them the Six Nations title.
Les Bleus won their first Six Nations Grand Slam in 12 years and finished the calendar year unbeaten for the first time in history.
With a winning streak that currently stands at 13 matches, France have plenty of momentum and will going all out to topple Ireland as the world’s number one heading into a home Rugby World Cup.
France are just 0.62 of a point behind Andy Farrell’s team having moved up three places to second.
With a long-awaited win in the Six Nations and a first victory over Australia under their belts, Italy can look back on 2022 with immense pride.
Those two standout results helped the Azzurri to move up two places to 12th.
Samoa are another team on the up. Under Seilala Mapusua, the Islanders backed up winning the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup with a good set of Autumn Nations Series results to climb two places to 11th.
It was also two steps forward and a giant leap back into the Rugby World Cup mix for Portugal.
Os Lobos’ qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023 came at the end of a year in which they moved up two places to 18th.
Oaks have their branches clipped
In terms of the biggest fallers, Senegal (-12) and Andorra (-10) will hope there are better times ahead.
Of the more established test playing nations, Romania dropped the furthest. Having started the year in 15th place, the Oaks will go into 2023 clinging onto their place in the Top 20.
Home defeats in November to Samoa and Uruguay did not help their cause and by the end of the year head coach Andy Robinson had tendered his resignation.
World champions South Africa started the year out in front but dropped back to fourth, while Fiji also slipped back three places, to 14th.