Fiji reach new Pacific heights

Fiji climb to their highest position of eighth in the World Rugby Rankings, while Canada return to the top 20 after securing qualification for the Rugby World Cup 2019.

A first victory over France and an all-time high of eighth in the World Rugby Rankings saw Fijian rugby conclude what had already been a marvellous year with two more milestones achieved in Paris on Saturday evening.

Over the last 12 months, the World Rugby Pacific Challenge and World Rugby U20 Championship titles have been won by the Fiji Warriors and Fiji U20s respectively, while Fiji Drua secured the Australia National Rugby Championship at only the second time of asking on the eve of this November's senior tour.

Eight of the players involved in the Drua's success graduated to the Flying Fijian squad and one of them, Josua Tuisova, got on the scoresheet as John McKee's side secured a famous 21-14 win over Les Bleus at the Stade de France.

Semi Radradra had opened the scoring in the 19th minute before France hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado responded for Les Bleus. Guirado crossed again in the first half and with Baptiste Serin adding both conversions, France enjoyed a 14-12 lead at the break.

However, the home side failed to breach Fiji's defence in the second 40 and three Ben Volavola penalties were enough to see Fiji make history.

With 1.55 points awarded to them, Fiji's overall score is now 77.95 points which takes them above both France and Argentina.


All Blacks bounce back

New Zealand end a ninth straight season on top of the rankings. It needed an All Black defeat to Italy combined with a win for Ireland over the USA for them to be dethroned but, while the Irish obliged with a 57-14 victory at the Aviva Stadium, the All Blacks were in no mood to surrender their advantage.

Ten tries, all from the backs, were scored as Steve Hansen's men bounced back from their disappointing 16-9 loss to Ireland the week before with an emphatic 66-3 win at the Stade Olimpico in Rome.

Meanwhile, an Andrew Conway hat-trick helped spark a weekend of celebration for Ireland who swept the board at the World Rugby Awards in Monaco the following day with the Men's Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Tema of the Year accolades.

Conway's treble was accompanied by tries from Jack Conan, Tadhg Beirne, Stuart McCloskey, Quinn Roux and John Ryan as Ireland completed their November programme unbeaten for the second consecutive year.

Wales, too, completed a historic clean sweep of wins after overcoming South Africa 20-11. 

They led 14-3 at half-time following tries for prop Tomas Francis and full-back Liam Williams. South Africa then responded with a try from centre Jessie Kriel before Dan Biggar came off the bench to kick two late penalties.

Wales' ninth win in a row, their longest winning streak since 1999, earned them 0.54 of a rating which keeps them a fraction of a point ahead of England in third place in the rankings.

Home comforts

In what was a good November series for the Six Nations teams, England rounded off their campaign with a 37-18 win over Australia, to pick up 0.68 of a point.

The sides were tied at 13-13 at the break but England found another gear in the second half with Elliot Daly, Joe Cokanasiga and Owen Farrell adding to Jonny May's early score.

South Africa and Australia stay fifth and sixth respectively despite their losses with Scotland also unchanged, in seventh, after a scrappy 14-9 win over Argentina in Murrayfield. Sean Maitland scored the only try of the game with Greig Laidlaw kicking three of his four attempts at goal.

France and Argentina drop a place to ninth and 10th.

Outside of the top 10, Georgia were the biggest climbers, moving up two places to 13th after repeating their RWC 2015 victory over Tonga. 

The Lelos lost two players to the sin-bin in the second half and were hanging on to the narrowest of leads when Zurab Zhvania crossed deep into added time to seal a 20-9 win in Tbilisi. 

Tonga fall two places to 14th enabling the USA to move to a new high of 12th despite their defeat in Dublin.

Japan's 32-27 win over Russia at Kingsholm in Gloucester, England did not affect the rankings given the large points differential between the sides. However, the Bears will take huge encouragement from pushing the Brave Blossoms so close ahead of the opening game between the nations at next year's Rugby World Cup.

The first international between Spain and Samoa in Madrid ended in a 28-10 win for the Islanders. Samoa stay in 16th place, Spain fall one to 21st.

History-making Teros

Meanwhile, a last-gasp intercept try from replacement Agustín Ormaechea saw Uruguay clinch their first win over Romania at the ninth attempt. The 27-20 victory in Bucharest means Los Teros are now the higher-ranked of the two nations in 17th.

Canada's qualification for RWC 2019 via their 27-10 repechage win over Hong Kong in Marseille came with the added boost of a return to the world's top 20 with their beaten opponents dropping to 24th.

Germany finished the round-robin tournament in second place after a convincing 43-6 victory over Kenya. Mike Ford's side move up two places and are now ranked in 26th position.

Much closer was the result between Portugal and Namibia with the Welwitschias ending their European tour on a high with a 29-23 victory and an improved ranking of 22nd. 

Fiji and the USA are not the only teams to enter uncharted territory in the rankings with the Netherlands now up to a historic high of 23rd following their 36-15 win over Switzerland.

Three penalties from David Weersman and Siem Noorman's converted try helped the Dutch into a 16-5 half-time lead before the first of Storm Carroll's two tries increased their advantage to 16 points in the 50th minute. 

The Swiss then struck back though with 10 unanswered points, Simon Perrod converting Lucas Heinrich's try before adding a penalty to make it a one-score game with 15 minutes remaining.

However, the Netherlands closed out their second win of the Rugby Europe Trophy with further tries from Wolf van Dijk and Carroll with a penalty from fly-half Liam McBride in between.