While there was very little change at the top end of the World Rugby Rankings, with the top three of New Zealand, England and Australia staying as they were, Germany and Senegal managed to defy the odds to beat higher-ranked opponents and improve their position.
Nearly 1,000 points were scored on a weekend when 20 internationals were played across four different continents, with Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification matches taking place in Africa and Europe and a number of new fixtures added to the global calendar.
One of those was in Frankfurt where Germany hosted Uruguay for the first time ever in an international. Uruguay surged into an early lead, scoring a try after just 90 seconds and went 15-3 ahead but the hosts produced a powerful second-half performance to tie the scores at 21-21 before Christopher Hilsenbeck kicked the winning penalty just before the final whistle.
Next Saturday, Germany play Brazil in Heidelberg in the first of back-to-back tests, while Uruguay move on to Malaga to play Spain.
As a result Los Teros fall one place in the rankings to 20th, with Namibia the beneficiaries, while Germany climb three places, taking them above Spain, who lost to Tonga 28-13. Sonatane Takalua converted all four of Tonga’s tries, scored by Dan Faleafa, Fetu’u Vainikolo, himself and Kali Hala, as the ‘Ikale Tahi won for the first time since RWC 2015.
Outside of Germany, the biggest surprise came in the Africa Cup Division 1B final between Tunisia and Senegal in Monastir. Tunisia scored the only try of the game but a fifth penalty from the boot of inside-centre Folliot Aldric sealed a 15-14 victory for Senegal at the Ben Jannet Stadium.
Senegal started the game nine places behind their hosts in the rankings but after picking up 1.55 rating points, they have climbed from 47th to 38th, the position previously held by Tunisia, who now slip to 42nd.
WALES ON THE UP
For the 12 teams that have already qualified for Japan 2019 vital rankings points were at stake too, given that the pool allocation draw is only six months away.
The All Blacks bounced back from their loss to Ireland in emphatic style, running in 10 tries to beat Italy 68-10 in Rome, but because of the 11-place differential between themselves and the Azzurri no rating points were gained, meaning the world's number one team remain on 94.57 points – a cushion of just under five points following England’s 37-21 victory over South Africa at a rain-soaked Twickenham.
Having ended their 10-year winless run against the Springboks, England gained 0.35 of a rating point to move on to 89.84 points.
Australia’s victory over Scotland was anything but comfortable. Reflecting the close nature of recent games between the two nations, the Murrayfield encounter swung one way and then the other until Bernard Foley broke Scottish hearts for the second time in just over a year when he converted Tevita Kuridrani’s 76th-minute try to snatch a 23-22 victory. After the narrowest of victories, Australia pick up 0.65 of a point to move on to 87.51.
South Africa stay fourth as Ireland, in fifth, did not gain any rating points for their 52-21 win over a Canadian side ranked 18th at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Fielding a much-changed XV from the one that shocked the All Blacks in Chicago the week before, Ireland laboured to a 21-14 lead at half-time, but five second-half tries saw them match the half-century of points they achieved against Canada in Pool D at RWC 2015.
Wales are now a fraction under two points behind Ireland, after moving up to sixth on the back of a hard-fought 24-20 win against Argentina at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Los Pumas drop two places to eighth, falling below France who easily accounted for Samoa in Toulouse, wing Virimi Vakatawa bagging a hat-trick of tries in a 52-8 win.
Scotland, despite the loss to Australia, stay ninth and Fiji, who lost 40-7 to the Barbarians in a non-capped international, make up the top 10.
Japan are knocking on the door, however. The Brave Blossoms bounced back in style from their heavy defeat at the hands of Argentina to end Georgia’s seven-match unbeaten home run with a 28-22 win in Tbilisi. Sevens superstar Lomano Lemeki scored a brace of tries to inspire a Japan comeback and hand Jamie Joseph his first win in charge of the team. Consequently, they trade places in the rankings with Japan now 11th and Georgia 12th.
Johan van Heerden, Catalin Fercu and Viorel Lucaci scored tries for Romania in a 23-10 win against the USA in Bucharest. All of the Eagles’ points came from fly-half Will Holder in a match that leaves Romania 16th and the USA 17th in the rankings.
CUP OF NATIONS FOLLOWS FORM BOOK
Hong Kong and Russia reinforced their top contenders’ status after opening wins in the first round of the Cup of Nations at King's Park on Friday.
Defending champions Russia, who have yet to lose a test match in Hong Kong after beating the hosts in a one-off test in 2013 and winning last year’s four-team competition, scraped through a tough encounter against a much-improved Zimbabwe.
Russia took a 19-6 lead into half-time but they were outclassed in the second half as the Sables put on an inspired performance in closing the gap to 19-15 before time ran out on their comeback attempt.
In the second match, hosts Hong Kong easily accounted for tournament debutants Papua New Guinea, who were playing their first test since August 2015, running in six tries in a 51-5 victory that ensured full-back Ed Rolston’s reign as captain began in style.
The 50th anniversary fixture between Portugal and Belgium in Setubal saw the home side just about withstand a storming second-half performance from the Black Devils. The Portugese raced into a 26-0 lead after 35 minutes thanks to a brace of tries from winger Pedro Avila and one apiece from centre Thomas Appleton and scrum-half Francisco Magelhaes. Crucially, Belgium fly-half Kevin Williams dotted down on the stroke of half-time to give the visitors a foothold in the game. Two tries from centre Guillaume Brebant got Belgium to within five points, at 26-21, but Portugal held on.
The first ever international between Chile and Korea ended in a 30-12 win for Los Condores, although a gain 0.92 of a point is not enough for them to move higher than their current standing of 27th. Korea drop two places to 30th.
Moldova are up three places to 31st in the rankings after an impressive 54-15 victory over Ukraine which effectively ends the visitors’ RWC 2019 qualification hopes.
Moldova’s back-row was too strong for Ukraine, who have now lost all three of their games in the Rugby Europe Trophy this season, with number eight Oleg Prepelita grabbing a hat-trick. Ukraine fall two places to 35th.
Two other Rugby Europe fixtures counted towards the regional qualification process. In Conference 1 North, the Czech Republic made it two wins from two with a 15-6 win against Lithuania in Prague. They remain 32nd in the rankings, while Lithuania drop two places to 46th.
In Conference 1 South, the lead changed hands five times in a topsy-turvy first half between Cyprus and Israel in Paphos. Cyprus went into the break 18-17 up but two tries in as many minutes from centre Ori Abutbul turned the tide in Israel’s favour. Flanker Guy Matisis completed the comeback with a 78th-minute try making the scoreline 38-28 to the visitors.
Main photo: Felix Winkelnkemper