With Rugby World Cup 2015 only nine months away, we take a closer look at the four pools in terms of where the teams currently sit in the World Rugby rankings.
When we last looked at the rankings in a World Cup context, back in September, pool A was shaping up to be the most competitive of the four with three sides ranked in the top 10 - hosts England, two-time winners Australia and RWC 2011 semi-finalists Wales.
The trio are still all ranked in the top six as they were then, but Australia’s fall to fifth in tandem with Fiji’s fall to 12th and repechage winner Uruguay at 20th means that the Pool A combined total is now 47.
Australia – 5
England – 4
Wales – 6
Fiji – 12
Uruguay – 20
Rankings points total – 47
Two-time champions South Africa will begin Pool B as the highest-ranked team after retaining second place, despite a loss to Ireland in Dublin in November. The Springboks sit six places above nearest rivals Scotland, who have only ever beaten them once in 12 attempts. Samoa slipped one to 10th in November and now sit just above Japan, who enjoyed a record run of 11 consecutive test victories to climb to a new high of ninth. The USA Eagles also climbed in November, back to 18th.
South Africa – 2
Samoa – 10
Scotland – 8
Japan – 11
USA – 16
Rankings points total – 47
While defending RWC champions New Zealand celebrated a fifth anniversary atop the World Rugby rankings in November, and will be overwhelming favourites to top pool C, the three-place climb of Argentina since September means that - statistically speaking - the pool is now more competitive with a total of 61 ranking points instead of 63, although it remains the least competitive. Tonga now have Georgia breathing down their necks in the rankings despite beating their rivals in November, while Namibia are the lowest-ranked of all 20 qualifiers and are still searching for a first ever RWC win.
New Zealand –1
Argentina – 9
Namibia – 23
Rankings points total - 61
Ireland were the big movers in November, climbing two places to equal their highest ever ranking of third after victories over both South Africa and Australia. The Irish lost only one match all year – against England in the Six Nations – to put their name in the mix as contenders for RWC glory. France showed signs of improvement in November, while Italy managed just one win in the whole of 2014 and sit in their lowest position of 14th. Canada and Romania both slipped a place in November with the Canucks also at their lowest spot.
Ireland – 3
Canada – 18
Romania – 17
Rankings points total –59
2014: Biggest climbers and fallers
Away from the nations counting down the days until RWC 2015, the last 12 months have seen significant movement in the World Rugby rankings.
The honour of being the biggest climber in the rankings goes to Luxembourg, who started the year in 93rd place and finished 17 places higher in 76th after victories over Austria, Serbia, Finland and Greece in the European Nations Cup.
Four other nations enjoyed climbs into double figures, the Czech Republic (+12 to 36th), Colombia (+10 to their highest ever position of 50th), Slovenia (+10 to 74th) and Mauritius (+10 to a new high of 90th).
By contrast, four nations suffered falls into double figures over the course of 2014. The biggest fallers were Bermuda and Serbia, who fell 11 places to 64th and 91st respectively after a number of heavy losses.
Denmark also slumped 10 places to 81st – like Serbia the lowest position they have occupied since the rankings were introduced on October 2003 – and Israel by the same number of places to 59th.