Third spot in rankings on cards for England
Twelve of the nations bound for Rugby World Cup 2011 will be in action over the weekend, fine-tuning their squads as the deadline fast approaches and all hoping to avoid any slip ups, not only for morale but also to avoid slipping in the IRB World Rankings.
With so many teams in the top 20 in action there are many different permutations for rises and falls, the most interesting being the prospect of England ending the southern hemisphere dominance of the top three and Japan entering the top 10 for the first time.
The only thing certain when the IRB World Rankings update on Monday is that New Zealand will remain the world’s number one side and Russia and Namibia will still occupy 19th and 20th positions, outside of that there could be mass changes.
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South Africa and Australia have already swapped places twice in the last month and will do so again if the Springboks, with their big-guns recalled, can get their season back on track with victory at Kings Park in Durban in match four of the 2011 Tri Nations.
A South African victory, regardless of the margin, will lift them above Australia into second spot, albeit still 6.77 points behind the All Blacks. The good news for Australia, beaten 30-14 by New Zealand last weekend, is that they cannot slip below third, even with a heavy loss in Durban.
By contrast, if Australia can win – just as they did on their last visit to Durban in 2008 – then they could bring the deficit to New Zealand to just under five rating points. A loss for South Africa puts them at the mercy of losing third spot to England.
For that to happen, England firstly have to beat Wales at the Millennium Stadium, which will be enough to claim third spot if South Africa loss to Australia by more than 15 points. If the margin is narrower in Durban, then England must beat Wales by more than 15 points to leapfrog them.
England last occupied third after beating France in the semi finals of Rugby World Cup 2007, albeit only for a week. France were actually the last northern hemisphere nation to break the southern hemisphere stranglehold, again only for a single week in late June 2010.
A second loss in the space of a week to England will prove costly for Wales with a two place fall to ninth below Argentina and Scotland. On the other hand, a Welsh victory by more than 15 points would be enough to lift them above the loser of the France-Ireland encounter in Bordeaux.
New highs and lows
South Africa and England, though, are only two of the sides who could occupy fourth when the rankings update, the others being France and Ireland, who relinquished the position after losing 10-6 to Scotland in their first RWC 2011 warm-up match last weekend.
For France or Ireland to take over fourth then England must lose in Cardiff, allowing the Bordeaux winner to climb above them and potentially to within touching distance of a South African side beaten at home.
England will fall one place in defeat, but a loss could prove more costly for France as they could drop two places to seventh depending on the margin of their defeat on home soil and Wales’ win over England, a side they lost 23-19 to at Twickenham.
The weekend’s other matches in Fiji, Italy and America could have a similar impact on the rankings between Samoa in 10th and Romania in 18th, even if those two nations are not actually in action themselves.
Italy are the highest ranked nation across these three matches in 11th and cannot improve that position even if Sergio Parisse’s men record an emphatic victory over Japan, coached by former Azzurri coach John Kirwan, in Cesena.
A first ever win over Italy, though, will lift Japan to their highest ever position of 11th since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003. The Brave Blossoms could even climb above Samoa into 10th if they win by more than 15 points.
If Kirwan and co are celebrating a new high, then Italy will drop to 13th – the position they occupied when the rankings were introduced, albeit only briefly – with either Fiji or Tonga also climbing above them.
The Pacific Island rivals come face to face in Lautoka on Saturday in the first of two meetings at Churchill Park in the space of seven days, and Fiji will be eager to avenge a 45-21 loss at the same venue in last month’s IRB Pacific Nations Cup.
That tournament and losses to Tonga and Japan proved costly for Fiji as they slipped to a new low of 14th in the rankings. It could get worse, as another loss on home soil could see them slide to 16th if Canada beat USA in Denver.
Fiji and Tonga are currently only separated by one place and less than three tenths, so whoever emerges victorious will rise to 12th, which would be a new high for the Ikale Tahi.
USA are the only other nation for whom victory will not be enough to improve their ranking of 17th, the Eagles having slipped to nearly four points below Canada after losing 28-22 to their neighbours in Toronto last weekend.
By contrast another win for Canada can lift Kieran Crowley's men above Georgia and the loser of the Fiji-Tonga encounter into 14th. It would also condemn neighbours USA to a one-place fall to 18th with Romania the beneficiaries.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.
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