2010 in review: Highs and lows in rankings
The IRB World Rankings may have a familiar look to them as a new year dawns with New Zealand still occupying the top spot, but below the All Blacks there have been plenty of rises and falls with a number of nations realising their highest ever positions over the course of 2010.
Scotland, Japan, Namibia, Kenya, Senegal, Malaysia, India, Israel and Andorra all rose to new heights over the course of the year, and while some stays at these lofty positions were brief and lasted only a week, others continued to show strides being made by developing nations.
This is particularly true in the case of Malaysia, who matched their gain during 2009 by climbing another 11 places to 57th with the majority of these coming on the back of a 35-8 defeat of Chinese Taipei in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I in April.
Malaysia, though, weren’t the only Asian nation to enjoy rankings climbs into double figures with Sri Lanka, India and Thailand all rising 10 places in 2010. Sri Lanka now lie 43rd, just one place shy of their all-time high, and will join the region’s elite in the Top 5 in 2011 after winning Division I.
Biggers fallers to be found in Asia
It is easy to pinpoint the catalyst the climbs of India and Thailand – emphatic victories over China in Division II. India ran riot to win 94-5 at the University Stadium in Delhi that would later host the Commonwealth Games, before Thailand beat China 56-13 to cancel out their nine place fall in 2009.
These heavy defeats inevitably mean that China are the biggest fallers of 2010, slumping 19 places – all bar three of them in that week – to an all-time low of 67th, with Chinese Taipei dropping 11 to 61st after electing to send a young and inexperienced team to contest the A5N Division I.
Another Asian side on the slide was Korea, who drop seven places to 32nd after a disappointing Asian 5 Nations campaign, which saw them fail to pick up a single victory and prop up the table following a shock loss to the Arabian Gulf in that team’s final ever international match.
It was not only in Asia, though, that nations suffered large falls with Switzerland and Hungary both sliding 10 places and Norway also falling nine in Europe, with the Cayman Islands sliding nine places after losing to Bermuda with Colombia also slipping the same number of places.
Colombia’s fall to 64th was the consequence of two defeats to lower ranked Venezuela and Peru in the South American B Championship on home soil in November, and was in complete contrast to 2009 when they had climbed nine places over the calendar year.
Peru the year's biggest climbers
While Colombia fell, though, there was plenty to smile about for Peru, who followed up their 13-5 victory over Venezuela with a 21-7 defeat of their hosts to climb 13 places in a single week. They would gain another place as a result of Switzerland’s loss to Serbia to be the year’s biggest climbers.
A number of other nations enjoyed climbs into double figures with Kenya and Sweden also rising 10 places, while Slovenia, Israel – who climbed nine places in 2009 – and Austria all gained nine places and Andorra eight with Senegal jumping seven places to 56th.
Returning to the summit of the World Rankings, it was a year to remember for New Zealand with 13 victories in 14 Tests, the only blip on their account the 26-24 loss to Australia in Hong Kong at the end of October.
Had it not been for James O’Connor’s conversion of his last gasp try then New Zealand would have surpassed Lithuania’s record of 18 consecutive Test match victories against Wales on the final weekend of the November internationals.
They would also have set a new record for the biggest advantage at the top of the IRB World Rankings, surpassing the 9.41 cushion they enjoyed over France on 25 June 2007.
All Blacks strengthen position at top
Even with the loss, the All Blacks still ended 2010 having increased their cushion as the number one side by 2.66 rating points over the 12 months and one of only three sides to remain in the same position all year.
While New Zealand remained stationary at the top, three nations in the top 10 did end 2010 in a higher position than they began it with Australia climbing above South Africa into second and England and Scotland rising two places to fourth and seventh respectively.
The southern hemisphere monopoly on the top three spots continues into 2011, although France did break it following Australia’s 21-20 loss to England in June. However, a heavy 41-13 loss to Argentina a week later saw the Wallabies regain the third spot.
Only two other nations in the top 20 enjoyed a climb, Samoa swapping places with Italy to take over 11th after beating Japan at the end of October and Georgia rising two places to 15th following victories over Canada and USA in Tbilisi.
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The IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003 and are published every Monday on www.irb.com. They are calculated using a points exchange system in which teams take points off each other based on the match result. Whatever one team gains, the other team loses. The exchanges are determined by the matches result, the relative strength of the team and the margin of victory. There is also an allowance for home advantage.
Ninety-four of the IRB’s Member Unions have a rating, typically between 0 and 100 with the top side in the world usually having a rating above 90 – New Zealand’s was 93.19 at the end of 2010.
Any match that is not a full international between two countries or a Test against the Lions or Pacific Islanders does not count towards the rankings. Likewise neither does a match against a country that is not a Full Member Union of the International Rugby Board.
The IRB World Rankings will remain unchanged until the beginning of February, when the Six Nations and European Nations Cup kick off what will undoubtedly herald the start of another year of changing fortunes in the IRB World Rankings, particularly with Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand.
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