Power Ranking Top-10 Rugby Nations After Summer Internationals
The summer saw the big three from the southern hemisphere record nine wins from nine over England, France, Scotland and Wales. That firmly plants the southern big guns at the top of the tree in the world rankings and leaves the northern teams with ground to make up.
ESPNScrum.com’s Huw Richards breaks the stats down of the North South divide expertly in this piece, and concludes:
The answer to any suggestion that the gap is closing is a reasonably clear 'no'. The southern hemisphere's statistical edge grows still more overwhelming and where South Africa and Australia were once comparatively vulnerable to the stronger European teams, they now usually put them away. South Africa's winning percentages over the three seven-year periods have been consecutively 67, 61 and 87% while Australia have run at 78, 64 and 75%.
So, these rankings take into account the results of the summer and the quality of opposition they were achieved against.
The Brave Blossoms have broken into the top 10 for the first time, thanks to a 26-23 win over Italy.
That victory was their 10th in a row and has given them genuine hope of progress from next year’s World Cup pool which contains Scotland and Samoa, who sit just above them in eighth and ninth on the IRB ladder.
Coach Eddie Jones told AFP, per Alistair Himmer’s report in the Sydney Morning Herald: "It's no use winning up to the World Cup and not winning once you get there - like the (Japan) soccer team. I want to make the quarter-finals of the World Cup and become the most popular sports team in Japan. There's no reason why we can't."
Samoa edged out Fiji 18-13 on June 21 thanks to Tusi Pisi’s boot, which followed a 15-0 win over Italy and an 18-18 draw with Tonga.
It’s not the type of opposition to gauge how well the Samoans would do against the best in the world, but it keeps them comfortably in the world’s top 10 and with Scotland and Japan in their group at next year’s World Cup, they're worth a flutter to top the section.
Scotland sneaked past Canada and Argentina, the latter result thanks to Duncan Weir’s 78th-minute penalty. Then they pitched up in South Africa and had 55 points stuck on them.
If new coach Vern Cotter wanted an early indication of the ground the Scots have to make up to the world’s best teams, this was it. “The best that could be said for the Scots was that they were gutsy - but totally outgunned,” was ESPNScrum.com’s assessment.
France lost all three Tests in Australia, the first and third alarmingly so.
A tour in during which all three performances lacked direction, structure and any indication of what Philippe Saint-Andre is trying to achieve has brought the coach under huge pressure, as Rugby World’s Gavin Mortimer outlined:
We’ve had the excuses – not just this week but for the past two years – with PSA blaming the Top 14, the clubs, the players’ attitudes and the fixture list for France’s malaise. But he’s never blamed himself for being unable to motivate his players, for fielding teams who lack direction, structure and creation, and for making poor selections…How can a side containing world-class players such as Wesley Fofana, Nicolas Mas and Yoann Huget leak 50 points against an Australian side that is improving but still far from the finished article?
A disastrous first Test against South Africa was almost turned on its head in the second. Wales were a minute away from a famous first win in the Boks’ back yard but coughed it up with Liam Williams’ late indiscretion.
In fairness to the full-back, there was going to be no other way to stop Cornal Hendricks than to turn himself into a human battering ram. It was just a shame the battering ram didn’t use its arms. That leaves us not quite sure what to make of this Welsh tour.
Awful one minute, 15 points better than the Springboks the next, only to wilt late on. You could blame that on end-of-season fatigue, but that was a huge winning margin to throw away.
Wales need to get this southern-hemisphere money off their back this autumn, or they will go into next year’s World Cup pool of death without much confidence they can escape.
Job done for Joe Schmidt’s men, who claimed their first series win in Argentina and blooded some new players in the process.
It was left to Paul O’Connell, however, to point out that two wins over an understrength but plucky Pumas side, may not be as valuable in the long run as England’s trip to New Zealand, where their only win was a midweek one against the Crusaders.
But three full-blooded encounters with the world’s best side may just accelerate the learning curve faster than Ireland’s summer schedule. O’Connell told the Irish Independent:
It's very frustrating and disappointing because one of the things we want to do is to keep progressing, keep making little steps all of the time and we probably didn't do that over the last two weeks,
"You can only play what's in front of you. We can't all go down to New Zealand or Australia and play them. This was our tour, we had to make the most of it.
Sobering reality or a clear illustration of the missing puzzle pieces? That depends on your disposition as an England fan, but the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
England, with their team shorn of many first choices for the first Test, gave the All Blacks a fright almost on a level with the one delivered by Ireland last autumn.
They came up short, however, and never reached that performance level again. Stuart Lancaster was positive in his selections for Tests two and three and bold in trying new ideas. Tuilagi on the wing was one such experiment and it failed. But, at least, now we know.
England showed they can get enough ball and have enough field position against the world’s best side to create enough chances to win. But those chances were not finished off.
Their problem, as it was in the Six Nations and last autumn, is that they simply aren’t clinical enough when the line is begging. They can work on that.
Ewen McKenzie has continued the development of a side who took some huge leaps on their European tour last autumn.
After a poor performance against England, they won every game, and after a solid start in Super Rugby by three of their five franchises, their players came together well against a poor French team this summer.
You can only beat the opposition put in front of you, and the Aussies did that, comprehensively twice and narrowly once in that bizarre 6-0 affair.
Bernard Foley took the reins at No. 10 in place of the injured Quade Cooper and looked to the manor born, while a back line containing Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani, Nick Cummins and Israel Folau will pose anyone problems.
We will find out if the forward pack that looked vastly improved in the scrummaging department against France can continue its upward curve in the Rugby Championship.
2. South Africa
The brutish power of their pack is still the key plank in South Africa’s armoury, as was shown in their demolition of Wales.
It is now bolstered by the return of Victor Matfield, who looks as good as ever. But they also showed that they now have some flare further out wide.
Willie Le Roux is in blazing form, with a sidestep and an eye for space not that common among Springbok No. 15s, and Bryan Habana is still scoring tries. The Boks will push the All Blacks all the way again this season.
1. New Zealand
The All Blacks remain the team to beat.
England gave them a scare in their first two tests, but they only needed to slip into top gear for short bursts in either contest to find a way to win.
They will have shaken off the ring rust ahead of the Rugby Championship and look ready to defend their title.
There are some concerns for Steve Hansen’s men, as Kieran Read looks to shake off the effects of his concussion and Richie McCaw searches for his very best form, but around them is such an abundance of talent they can break any side open.
Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith remain the best 12/13 combination in world rugby and outside them the class of Ben Smith and deadly finishing of Julian Savea make this attack the sharpest in the game.