France climb into top four of world rankings
France’s resounding victory over Australia was more than mere payback for a run of defeats stretching back to 2005; it also gave Les Bleus a head start in the race to Rugby World Cup 2015.
The 33-6 win at the Stade de France on Saturday evening ended a five-match losing sequence against the tourists while lifting the Frenchmen to the coveted fourth spot in the IRB World Rankings.
On 3 December, the rankings will determine the seeding for the 12 directly qualified teams for England 2015. The teams ranked one to four will be kept apart at the pool stage, which makes the battle for a top-four spot especially relevant.
Fly half Frédéric Michalak, recalled for the summer tour to Argentina after a two-year absence from the national team, played in the last French side to beat Australia, in Marseille seven years ago.
The veteran No.10 flourished back in the playmaker’s role, slotting 15 points before he departed late on to warm applause from the crowd, with Francois Trinh-Duc coming on.
But the French victory was about the dynamism of the scrum as much as elan behind it.
Flanker Yannick Nyanga - another survivor from the 2005 win along with Michalak, Florian Fritz and Dimitri Szarzewski – was playing his first Test in five years, and his commitment to the cause was evident during the anthems, when he was visibly moved to tears.
France’s elevation to fourth in the rankings comes at the expense of England, now fifth.
Their dominant 54-12 win over Fiji at Twickenham had no impact on either side's rating points, as a result of the 10 places and 12.49 rating points separating the two teams.
As the rankings stand after the first weekend of a packed month of internationals, France would avoid New Zealand, South Africa and Australia until at least the quarter-finals.
England’s fate is very much in their own hands, with Australia, South Africa and New Zealand coming up over consecutive weekends before the Pool Allocation Draw in London.
Australia, meanwhile, drop from second to third in the rankings with the heavy loss in France and are now less than a quarter of a rating point ahead of the French.
More worryingly for coach Robbie Deans is the fact that the Wallabies now have less than a two-point cushion over fifth ranked England, their next opponents, and will be desperate to preserve their top four status.
South Africa profit from the Wallabies’ contrasting fortunes to move to second behind New Zealand.
The Springboks’ 16-12 victory over Ireland boosts their ranking points to 85.50, though the All Blacks are way out in front with 92.91.
South Africa had to work for victory in Dublin on Saturday, going into half time 12-3 down, but they clawed their way back with 13 unanswered points.
The result shunts Ireland down to eighth, their seventh spot taken by Argentina thanks to events in Cardiff.
The Pumas, battle-hardened by some mighty efforts in defeat during The Rugby Championship, overturned Wales 26-12 on their own patch.
Veteran Felipe Contepomi, who inspired the Pumas to victory in Cardiff in 2001, was recalled to the side after missing The Rugby Championship.
Second-half tries by Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho gave them victory over the Grand Slam winners at the Millennium Stadium for only their second win in Wales - their previous victory being 11 years ago to the day.
Wales, Argentina and Ireland are all in the battle for ranking places five to eight, with Scotland ninth.
Scotland’s failure to record their first-ever victory over New Zealand - the All Blacks triumphing 51-22 - leaves their points unchanged on 77.97, but they are little more than one ranking point behind Ireland.
The Irish risk dropping into the third band of seeds for the England 2015 Pool Allocation Draw.
As they stand, the Pool Allocation Draw seedings would be:
Band 1: New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France
Band 2: England, Wales, Argentina, Ireland
Band 3: Scotland, Samoa, Italy, Tonga
The All Blacks’ next opponents are Italy, who maintained their 11th place with a 28-23 win over Tonga, but the Pacific Islanders ran the home team close in Brescia.
Azzurri skipper Sergio Parisse warned his side will need to shape up before facing the top-ranked All Blacks.
"It's an important week for us, we'll regroup and train for next week in calm conditions but we can't play like that for 80 minutes against the All Blacks,'' he said.
A comprehensive 42-12 victory over Canada in the IRB International Rugby Series in Colwyn Bay on Friday consolidated Samoa’s position in 10th, while the USA (17th) notched a 40-26 away win over Russia to send them down one place to 20th.
Japan’s 34-23 win over Romania in Bucharest, meanwhile, lifts them one place to 15th.
Namibia edged past Zimbabwe 37-33 in the opening match of a Tri Nations tournament with Spain in Windhoek to rise to 21st and push Uruguay, who were defeated 32-25 by Portugal, down to 22nd.
Portugal's reward for a win in Montevideo is a three-place rise to 24th, a position they will hope to improve by ending their South American tour with victory over Chile this weekend.
RWC 2015 qualifiers
The primary focus in Europe may be the race to secure the best seeding possible for the RWC 2015 Pool Allocation Draw on 3 December, but this weekend also saw the region's qualification process continue.
Sweden edged a tight battle with Czech Republic in their European Nations Cup Division 1B in Prague, the 22-18 win lifting them one place to 34th and condemning their hosts to a four-place fall to 44th.
The Netherlands, though, were the biggest climbers of the week, jumping eight places to 39th on the back of a 24-16 win on the road in Lithuania. The Division 2A loss means Lithuania drop six to 45th.
The weekend's final European Nations Cup 2014 encounter saw Luxembourg beat Norway 15-8 on home soil, a win that lifts them one place to 94th and to less than a tenth below the Norwegians, who swap places with Monaco again.
- The IRB World Rankings are published every Monday at midday UK time.