Wales, Tonga and Switzerland, all wearing red, were the only nations to climb the World Rugby Rankings on the back of their own on-field achievements.
Wales’ 27-13 victory over South Africa, their third win in this November series, sees them replace the Springboks in fifth place in the rankings, while Tonga are up to 14th, after winning away in Italy, and Switzerland jump up two places to 33rd after a comeback victory over Moldova.
Unlike Wales’ two previous Cardiff wins against Argentina and Japan, the game against South Africa was one that was never really in doubt, although they had to wait until the second half to score their only tries through hooker Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric. Leigh Halfpenny converted Tipuric’s try to add to five earlier penalties.
It was only the third time that Wales had beaten South Africa and the victory was worth 0.78 of rating point, taking them on to 82.55 points – just over two behind fourth-placed Ireland. The loss means the Springboks equal their lowest ever position of sixth since the rankings began in October 2003.
THE BEST OF DAYS
Ireland boosted their tally by more than a point following their 27-24 win against Australia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. They are now just over two points behind the Wallabies and have every chance of catching them, if they enjoy a successful Six Nations, before the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw takes place on 10 May, 2017.
Completing a hat-trick of wins against the southern hemisphere’s ‘big three’ was a fine way for Ireland captain Rory Best to mark his 100th test. Their tries came from Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose and, crucially, Keith Earls. Paddy Jackson kicked 12 points against a Wallabies side that scored 21 of their points in a 17-minute spell either side of half-time.
New Zealand and England, the top two sides in the rankings, were able to improve their points total as expected victories over France and Argentina came with no reward due to difference in rating points between the nations.
Neither win was a formality though, anything but. France produced a grandstand finish to close to within five points of the All Blacks, before running out of time and losing 24-19, while England played the majority of their game against Los Pumas with 14 men after Elliot Daly became only the fifth Englishman, and the first back, to be sent off in an international. Eddie Jones’ side coped well with the loss of the winger to beat the travel-weary Pumas 27-14 and extend their winning run to 13 matches.
HOGG HEADLINE ACT
Scotland saved their best until last in this November series with a six-try, 43-16 win over Georgia at Rugby Park, the home of Kilmarnock Football Club.
Stuart Hogg bagged a brace as seventh-ranked Scotland earned one-tenth of a rating point, which takes them on to 80.67 points – just over one behind South Africa, who are in danger of dropping out of the world’s top eight if the sides in and around them in the rankings have a good Six Nations campaign.
Levani Botia scored twice as Fiji beat Japan 38-25 to end their European tour with a win in the French town of Vannes, thus preventing the Asian champions taking 10th place from them in the rankings. Fiji now have a two-point buffer between themselves and the Brave Blossoms, after a 0.97 of a point gain, but are still more than three points adrift of Argentina, in ninth.
Teenage fly-half D'Angelo Leuila kicked 20 points as Samoa held off a battling Canada 25-23. The win earned Samoa just over a third of a point but it still wasn’t enough for them to prevent Pacific rivals Tonga overtaking them in the rankings after the ‘Ikale Tahi stunned Italy to win 19-17 in Padova. Sonatane Takulua stepped up to kick the match-winning penalty in the final seconds, as Tonga sent Italy crashing back down to earth after their historic triumph over South Africa the week before. Tonga are now ranked 14th, just over half a point behind the Azzurri.
Winger Stephen Shennan touched down twice in the first half as Romania went on to beat Uruguay 36-10 in Bucharest. The result did not affect the rankings, with Romania staying 16th and Uruguay 21st. Romania end the month with three victories, while Uruguay return home on the back of three defeats, two against lower ranked sides in Germany and Spain.
SWISS ON A ROLL
Meanwhile, in the Rugby Europe Trophy, which acts as part of the European qualification process for RWC 2019, Switzerland found a winning response to their defeat to Portugal seven days earlier with a hard-fought 29-26 win at home to Moldova.
The Swiss trailed 12-6 at the break but the assured place-kicking of scrum-half Simon Perrod, who finished with a 19-point haul, and second-half tries for winger Andrei Cibotari and centre Jeremy To’a sealed victory for the home side in the first-ever meeting between the nations.
After picking up 0.84 of a rating point, Switzerland move above Saturday’s opponents, and Ukraine, into 33rd place in the rankings.