New Zealand close in on rankings record
New Zealand can create a piece of IRB World Rankings history this weekend if they can beat Australia by more than 15 points in their final Bledisloe Cup encounter of 2010 on natural soil in Hong Kong.
The All Blacks have won their last 10 meetings with Australia, the most recent a 23-22 triumph seven weeks ago in Sydney, and another victory will see them inch closer to breaking the record for the most consecutive Test victories in the world game.
That currently stands at 18, set by Lithuania between 27 May 2006 and 8 May 2010 when they were beaten 27-16 by Ukraine in a Rugby World Cup qualifier. This run saw Lithuania surpass the previous benchmark of 17 set by New Zealand from 1965-69 and equalled by South Africa in 1997-1998.
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New Zealand currently sit 9.21 points above Australia at the top of the IRB World Rankings, but a win by more than 15 points will increase that to 9.45 – surpassing the biggest ever advantage at the top (9.41) which the All Blacks held over France on 25 June 2007.
A smaller margin of victory will leave the All Blacks four hundredths adrift of that record, but still on course to go through the calendar year with a perfect record after impressively sweeping aside all competition so far in 2010.
If Australia, though, can end their losing run against the All Blacks and taste victory for the first time since 26 July 2008, then New Zealand’s advantage at the top of the world rankings will be slashed dramatically.
The cushion will reduce to by nearly four points with an Australian victory, but if the Wallabies can win by more than 15 points then they will trail New Zealand by only 3.45 rating points as both nations head to Europe for the November internationals.
New high for Japan?
Australia and New Zealand aren’t the only nations in the top 20 in action this weekend, with Samoa stopping off in Tokyo en route to Europe to play Japan in a one-off Test at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
Japan ran out 31-23 winners when the sides last met at the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup in June and a repeat performance will see John Kirwan’s side achieve their best ever position in the IRB World Rankings with a two-place rise to 11th.
The Japanese achieved their previous best of 12th on the back of that PNC victory on Samoan soil, but would better that regardless of the margin of victory they enjoyed in Tokyo with their visitors sliding one place to 13th in defeat.
Even if Japan lose to Samoa they will not fall from 13th, although their advantage over Canada could be cut to just over a point with a heavy defeat. Samoa will climb above Italy with victory, but could also leapfrog Fiji with a win by more than 15 points to achieve their highest ranking since just before RWC 2007.
The biggest movers in the IRB World Rankings over the last seven days, though, are likely to come from South America where the region’s B Championship has been taking place involving Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Costa Rica.
Peru set for huge gain
Peru have proven the surprise package, upsetting both Venezuela and their hosts Colombia in the space of three days and as a result are set to rocket up the IRB World Rankings, potentially by as many as 14 places to 64th.
This is because they have beaten two sides ranked 18 and 25 places above them in the tournament, overcoming Venezuela 13-5 on Monday and then Colombia 21-7 on Wednesday and only Costa Rica now stand between them and the title.
While Peru are certain to shoot up the rankings, the same cannot be said for Venezuela and Colombia, making their encounter in Medellin on Saturday vital to try and lessen the damage caused by losing to the significantly lower ranked Peruvians.
If Colombia can bounce back to end with a victory then they will lessen the fall to two or three places, condemning Venezuela to a slide of up to 11 places and a lowest standing since June 2008.
By contrast, a Venezuelan win could see them actually climb up three places across the week with Colombia plummeting up to 15 places to 68th. This would see Colombia go from the highest ranked side in the tournament to the lowest with two defeats on home soil.
New highs at stake
There are also three matches in the European Nations Cup 2012 which can impact the rankings, with Hungary and Malta having the potential to reach new highs in the IRB World Rankings if they can win in Israel and Lithuania respectively.
Malta are ranked 10 places below Lithuania, but any margin of victory in their Division 2A encounter will see them realise a new high position, which could be as high as 41st with a win by more than 15 points, condemning their hosts to a six place fall to 45th.
Lithuania will not improve their position of 39th, although an emphatic victory will see them close to only three hundredths of Poland above them. Malta, though, will slide two places below Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe with any margin of defeat.
Eight years have passed since Hungary and Israel last met and the visitors to Netanya will be hoping to repeat their 39-24 victory that day. Hungary could rise as many as nine places into the top 60 with a convincing victory, condemning Israel to a six-place slide to 80th.
If Israel can emerge victorious from a Division 2C match to be shown live on national television, then they will become the higher ranked off the two sides regardless of the margin, climbing between two and four places with Hungary falling up to seven.
Croatia look to bounce back
The weekend’s other Division 2A will see Croatia looking to regain some of the ground they lost last week following a defeat by Sweden by beating Latvia, a side ranked 12 places below them at 58th.
Croatia can reclaim two of the four places they lost with that defeat by beating Latvia, an outcome which will see their hosts fall between five and seven places. However, if Latvia triumph then Croatia could slide five to 51st with their conquerors rising four to 54th.
The three teams in Division 3 - the bottom tier of the European Nations Cup 2012 - have also been in action this week, with Bosnia & Herzegovina playing host to Slovakia and Azerbaijan.
On Monday, Bosnia & Herzegovina overwhelmed Slovakia 45-21, before they bounced back to beat 25-5 Azerbaijan on Thursday. However, none of the matches in Division 3 will impact the IRB World Rankings as Slovakia and Azerbaijan are not yet Full Member Unions of the International Rugby Board and therefore not ranked.
The same is true for the CAR Development Trophy, taking place in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Algeria overwhelmed Libya 50-0 on Tuesday and will meet their hosts in the final on Friday after they edged Mauritania 10-5 in the other semi final.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.
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