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Picture: 123RF/Wavebreak Media Ltd
Picture: 123RF/Wavebreak Media Ltd

The world order has been given a shake and it is reflected in rugby’s latest rankings.        

World Rugby’s rankings have Ireland at the top, France in second spot and SA third, while New Zealand are only just ahead of England.

Whether that is a true reflection of where the game’s power brokers should be positioned is moot, but ranking systems tend to have their quirks and it is no different in this instance. Ireland and France occupying the top two spots doesn’t entirely fly in the face of what has transpired in the global game over the past year and a bit.

The Boks are down in third place after relinquishing top spot following  their second Test defeat against Wales. They had held top spot since winning the Rugby World Cup (RWC) in 2019.

Do they deserve to be down in third place? Though their series win over the British & Irish Lions was highly meritorious, it is not recognised in the ranking system. Outside of the Lions series, last year the Boks suffered four defeats in their remaining 10 Tests.

This season they suffered one defeat in the three Tests played against Wales, which means their win percentage is perhaps not what you’d expect from the top-ranked team in the world.

The All Blacks too have been a bit off colour of late as evidenced in their historic series defeat to Ireland.

The All Blacks still have the capacity to rack up the points against the minnows, as they showed last year in beating Tonga 102-0 in Auckland before beating the US 104-14 in Washington on their end-of-year tour. They followed their win in Washington by posting 50 points against Wales in Cardiff.

However, in some of the matches that mattered, it seems the All Blacks’ air of invincibility has deserted them. Teams that put them under pressure up front and apply the squeeze in defence have met success against the three-times world champions.

In their most recent contests they are all square against the Boks with a two-point win each in last year’s Rugby Championship. In fact, four of their past six clashes against each other were decided by two points, while one other produced a draw.

If the All Blacks have reached stalemate with their old adversaries, the same does not apply to their recent matches against Ireland.

Against Ireland they have lost three and won one in their last four Tests.

Ireland’s 29-20 win last November over the All Blacks in Dublin gave a clear indication that they are a team on the move. A week later they stacked 50-plus on Argentina in Dublin.

They went on to convincingly beat Wales, England, Italy and Scotland but their defeat in Paris cost them eventual honours in the Six Nations.

France, the Six Nations champions, have also been on the move and like Ireland they too accounted for New Zealand and Argentina on their end-of-year tours.

Crucially, they built depth by sending an inexperienced team to Australia last year. They came close to winning the series, but the box they really want to tick is just over a year away when they host the RWC.

Though their form has been impressive, their passage to the latter stages of that tournament is by no means guaranteed.

It is worth reminding ourselves that only two of SA, New Zealand, France, Ireland and Scotland can reach the semifinals of next year’s RWC. The top combatants of Pool A and Pool B are on a collision course and it is likely to shake the competition to its foundations.

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