A number of teams returned to the test arena in 2022 for the first time since COVID-19 and Hong Kong were one of those to make a hugely positive impression on the women’s game despite not participating at Rugby World Cup 2021.
Hong Kong took on and beat the higher-ranked Kazakhstan on back-to-back weekends in December to close out the year in 15th, their best-ever position in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Hong Kong had not played a test since they defeated the Netherlands 18-0 in November 2019 when they took on Kazakhstan in the first test, on 10 December, but they came out on top 31-17.
A week later, Kazakhstan looked for all the world like they would level the series when they led the return match, 12-0 with just 10 minutes to go. However, Hong Kong stuck to their task and tries from Sin Yi Au Yeung and Zoe Smith, both converted by Aileen Ryan, ensured they ended the year on a high.
Portugal made the most spectacular return in terms of number of places gained in the rankings, shooting up 19 places to 30th on the back of an incredible Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy campaign which culminated in a record 71-5 win over Belgium.
Belgium were also beaten by Czechia, who climbed to an all-time high of 31st after a 29-21 win. Meanwhile, Finland’s 43-5 win over Germany moved them up 10 places to 43rd.
Results in the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup also led to some big changes from a rankings perspective with Kenya the side enjoying the steepest upward curve. Wins over Zambia and Uganda saw them top their pool as well as lifting them up four places in the rankings to 25th.
Zambia had the biggest fall from grace, dropping 10 places, while Senegal, Uganda and Cameroon also lost ground.
The focal point of the year was, of course, Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand.
Hosts New Zealand lifted the trophy following a 34-31 win over England but the margin of victory was not enough for them to topple the Red Roses at the top of the rankings.
Beaten semi-finalists, France and Canada also ended the year as they were, in third and fourth, but Italy’s success in reaching the quarter-finals was reflected in them moving up three places to fifth.
Fiji’s first Rugby World Cup also brought them their first tournament win and it was thanks to their heart stopping 21-17 win over South Africa that the Islanders managed to soar up to 16th.
Australia, USA and Scotland all dropped back a place over the duration of the tournament while Japan stayed where they were in 12th; however, Wales climbed two places to ninth, mainly as a result of their last-gasp 18-15 win over Scotland on the opening weekend.