With all 48 matches counting towards the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini and carrying double points, Rugby World Cup 2023 was always going to have the potential to shake things up, and so it proved.
Only two teams in the top 20 – New Zealand and England – ended the year where they started it in terms of their ranking position, although both still improved their rating after their respective second and third-place finishes.
Quadruple world champions South Africa started 2023 in fourth place but replaced Ireland at the top having successfully defended the Webb Ellis Cup with a one-point final victory over the All Blacks at the Stade de France on 28 October.
The Springboks gained 5.57 points over the 12-month period to increase their rating to 94.54 points, a fraction more than the total they had at the end of the last Men’s Rugby World Cup cycle in 2019.
Having led the field for 15 months, Ireland’s reign at the top came to an end as they failed to convert their men’s Six Nations 2023 Grand Slam into Rugby World Cup success.
Ireland’s inability to make it beyond the quarter-finals continued in France and, as a result, they have dropped down a place to finish the year in second, albeit with an almost identical rating to the one they had when they kicked off their season in February.
Fiji and Portugal light up Men's Rugby World Cup 2023
The biggest winners at RWC 2023 from a rankings perspective were Fiji and Portugal, who were paired together in a rollercoaster Pool C.
Fiji pulled off a stunning victory against Australia but were then on the receiving end of a shock result later on in the tournament as Portugal won their first match at a Rugby World Cup at the eighth attempt.
Portugal had also drawn with Georgia in their second match and those results helped to lift Os Lobos up to an historic high of 13th having started the year down in 18th.
The win over Australia coupled with a win against Georgia and some positive results earlier in the year, notably a maiden win against England at Twickenham, was enough for Fiji to end the year in credit despite the Portugal setback.
Simon Raiwalui’s side, who qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007, gained just over one-and-a-half points and four places over the course of the year, finishing it in 10th place as opposed to 14th.
While Portugal climbed to a new high, Australia lost ground after failing to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time in tournament history.
The Wallabies went from sixth to ninth, having temporarily fallen to a record low of 10th after their defeat to Wales, with 4.32 points knocked off their rating in 2023.
Samoa fell one place further, moving from 11th to 15th after also falling short of the knockout stages in France.
Eastern European rugby riding high
Outside of RWC 2023, Spain lost more matches than they won in 2023 and fell four places to 20th.
Sweden, the highest ranked team in Scandinavia, moved up five places to 36th and have their best-ever position of 32nd in their sights.
It was also a good year for a number of Eastern European countries, especially Sweden’s Rugby Europe Trophy rivals Croatia.
Wins over Ukraine and Lithuania in the 2023-24 edition enabled Anthony Posa’s team to climb seven places to 40th.
“I’m just pleased that with such a small pool of players and such small pool of resources compared to our competitors we are still progressing,” said Posa.
“Looking at 2024, the challenge for us now is to get even better.”
Like Croatia, Latvia, Slovenia and Serbia enjoyed big gains with Serbia’s eight-place rise only matched by Uganda.
The Rugby Cranes won the Victoria Cup and then rounded off the year with two wins over Tunisia in the space of five days to move up to 37th.
Tunisia and Ukraine were the only teams to suffer a double-digit fall in 2023.