In this most unpredictable of November series, the third Saturday of the month produced a few more surprises.
Following in the footsteps of Ireland and Germany, both shock winners on the opening two weekends, Italy took it upon themselves to rewrite history with a 20-18 victory against South Africa in Florence, while Scotland and Spain also managed to beat higher-ranked opposition on home soil.
Ignoring the nine-place differential in the World Rugby Rankings between themselves and the touring South Africans, Italy produced a dominant performance to beat the Springboks at the 13th time of asking, tries from Dries van Schalkwyk and Giovanbattista Venditti securing the Azzurri their first win at home for two years.
Italy gain two full rating points which would have been enough to lift them up one place to 12th in the rankings had Georgia not beaten Samoa 20-16 in Tbilisi. One-hundredth of a rating point is all that now separates Conor O'Shea's men from the Lelos.
SCOTLAND AT FIVE-YEAR HIGH
Having been edged out by Australia the previous weekend, Scotland managed to come out on the right side of a tight scoreline against Argentina, Greig Laidlaw’s penalty with the last kick of the game earning them a 19-16 win at Murrayfield.
Scotland move on to 80.57 points which puts them seventh ahead of France and Argentina, although less than a point covers the three nations. Crucially, ninth-placed Argentina only have one game left – against England at Twickenham – to move back into the world’s top eight and give themselves the chance of a more favourable seeding when the pools for Rugby World Cup 2019 are drawn in May.
Is this the best finish ever by Tevita Kurindrani?— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) November 20, 2016
At the top of the rankings, New Zealand shrugged off a high penalty count and the loss of two men to the sin-bin to beat Ireland 21-9 and gain revenge for their defeat to the same opposition a fortnight ago in Chicago.
Having picked up one-fifth of a rating point the All Blacks are now on 94.78 points with England unchanged in second, on 89.84 points, after their 58-15 win over Fiji at Twickenham.
Grand Slam-seeking Australia cemented third place with a tense 25-23 win against France in Paris. It was their third win on tour so far following earlier victories against Wales and Scotland.
South Africa’s run of defeats sees them drop a place to fifth, with Ireland moving above them into fourth despite their defeat. Wales, who stay sixth, owed their 33-30 victory over Japan to a last-gasp drop goal from replacement fly-half Sam Davies.
Narrow wins for Georgia (20-16 v Samoa), Tonga (20-17 v USA) and Romania (21-16 v Canada) means there is no change in the position of the tier two nations ranked from 11th to 18th.
RUSSIA RETAIN TITLE
Russia, however, are back in the world’s top 20 after successfully defending their Cup of Nations title in Hong Kong with a 27-0 win against their hosts. Winger Denis Simplikevich bagged a brace of tries inside the final 10 minutes to give the scoreline a one-sided look. Russia move up two places to 19th, overtaking Namibia and Uruguay in the process.
Uruguay head to Romania this weekend still searching for the first win of their three-game European tour after last weekend’s loss to Germany was followed by a 33-16 defeat to Spain. Back-row Pierre Bartherre scored a first-half double for Los Leones before Jordi Jorba and Ignacio Contardi sealed victory for the home side with tries after the break.
Tries from forwards Michael Poppmeier and Jaco Otto earned Germany a hard-fought 16-6 win over Brazil in Heidelberg but they were powerless to stop Spain leapfrogging them in the rankings. With 13 places between Germany and Brazil before kick-off the match did not carry any rating points, while Spain picked up 1.61 points for beating higher-ranked opposition, which was enough for them to climb two places to 22nd.
Santiago staged the most remarkable of matches where Chile threw away a 31-point second-half lead to lose 38-36 against Korea, for whom winger Hang-Yul Park scored a hat-trick inside the final 11 minutes.
Korea move up two places to 28th, with Chile and the Netherlands falling one, even though the Dutch improved their ratings by a fraction under a point following a 44-17 win over Moldova in the Rugby Europe Trophy. Flanker Dirk Danen and full-back Josh Gascoigne scored two tries apiece in the RWC 2019 qualifier.
Portugal are upwardly mobile, too, after a 28-10 away win over Switzerland in the same competition saw them climb three rankings places to sit 25th. Full-back Nuno Guedes was the star of the show with an 18-point haul.
The remaining RWC 2019 qualifier took place in South America and resulted in a 39-27 win for Paraguay against Colombia. As a result, the Yakares retain their place in the Sudamerica A Championship for 2017 and move up one place to 38th in the rankings, while Colombia, whose dreams of making it to Japan are now over, remain in the second tier and drop two places in the rankings to 43rd.
Spain photo credit: Alvaro Cabrera