England win ends long wait to top rankings for second time

England return to the top of the World Rugby Men's Rankings for the first time in 15 years with their Rugby World Cup 2019 final opponents South Africa now breathing down their necks.

The reward for England and South Africa reaching their first Rugby World Cup finals for 12 years is a climb to one and two in the World Rugby Men's Rankings respectively.

England's 19-7 defeat of two-time defending champions New Zealand in the first semi-final at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday lifted Eddie Jones' men to the top of the rankings – a position England had last occupied 5,613 days ago in June 2004.

A day later South Africa returned to second spot for the first time since August 2015 on the back of a 19-16 defeat of Wales to keep their hopes of a third Rugby World Cup success alive.

The end of New Zealand's 18-match winning run in the tournament means the All Blacks have slipped to third, equalling their lowest ever position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003. 

They will hope that history repeats itself as they slipped to third after losing the RWC 2003 semi-final to Australia but bounced back to second a week later with victory in the bronze final.

Wales, meanwhile, fell one place to fourth after missing out on a place in a first Rugby World Cup final. 

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Away from Japan, there were four matches in the Rugby Europe International Championship that counted towards the rankings with Bulgaria the biggest climbers of the last seven days.

Bulgaria ran out 51-3 winners over hosts Bosnia and Herzegovina in Conference 2 South to jump eight places to their highest ever position of 74th. Bosnia and Herzegovina had been the higher ranked of the two nations but the heavy defeat saw them drop 11 places to 82nd.

In Conference 1 North, Sweden were also winners away from home, edging Latvia 26-22 in Jurmala to climb three places to 47th at the expense of Sri Lanka, Morocco and Malaysia. Latvia have dropped four places to 64th on the back of the defeat.

Another Nordic nation on the rise are Denmark, who beat Finland 22-0 in Conference 2 North to climb one place to 73rd with Finland falling one to 87th.

Meanwhile in the Trophy, the second tier of the Rugby Europe International Championship, Ukraine ran out 27-10 winners over the visiting Lithuania to climb two places to 36th. Lithuania drop three places to 40th in defeat.

During RWC 2019, where points exchanges are doubled to reflect the importance of the tournament, the World Rugby Men’s Rankings will update after every match.