Lithuania the biggest climbers in 2008
New Zealand may have reclaimed top position in the IRB World Rankings from South Africa during 2008 with the Tri Nations title and a European Grand Slam tour, but Lithuania will end the year as the most successful team in terms of positions gained since 1 January.
Beginning the year in 55th position, Lithuania recorded six wins out of six in the European Nations Cup to move up 13 places to 42nd. It continues a remarkable run of consecutive victories, which now numbers 12 and stretches back to 6 May 2006 when they were defeated 22-0 by Slovenia.
Venezuela gained 12 places overall in 2008 despite a seemingly average record of two wins and two losses. But one of their wins, against Colombia during the South American B Championship in June, saw them shoot up nine places in one week.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifying campaign ended against Brazil in October, but not before they had moved up 10 places in the rankings since 1 January thanks to three unbeaten matches in the Caribbean qualifying tournament earlier in the year.
Of the teams in the IRB World Rankings top 20, Wales were the highest climbers, moving up from 10th to fifth following a Six Nations Grand Slam. Wales also gained the most rankings points of all 95 full IRB Member Unions - 6.86 - over the course of the year.
Bosnia & Herzegovina, with five wins and one draw, meanwhile gained 6.16 ratings points and seven positions.
Whatever one team gains in the IRB World Rankings, another loses. In 2008 the teams that dropped furthest in the rankings were Denmark and Luxembourg, who both ended the year 14 places lower than they had started it. Denmark lost all four of their European Nations Cup matches whilst Luxembourg were defeated in four of their five.
In terms of ratings points lost, Argentina head this category having shed 5.86 during the course of 2008. Despite this, the Pumas retained their top four ranking and a top band seeding in the RWC 2011 Draw. This was partly thanks to England losing 4.69 points and two rankings places since 1 January.
The first match of 2009 takes place on 31 January when Monaco face Azerbaijan in the European Nations Cup, although this will not impact the IRB World Rankings as Azerbaijan are not yet a Full Member Union of the International Rugby Board.
The rankings will therefore remain unchanged until February, when other European Nations Cup and Six Nations matches will undoubtedly herald the start of another year of changing fortunes in the IRB World Rankings.