Boks ready to reclaim No.1 ranking
YEAR-END SPOTLIGHT: South Africa and New Zealand’s see-saw battle at the top of the world rankings looks set to continue.
With rating points riding on the outcome of 12 matches, the rankings could look very different when they are officially updated on Monday.
Currently, the All Blacks are looking down on the rest of the teams, having reclaimed the top spot from South Africa – following last Saturday’s record 54-16 win over Wales in the year-end Test in Cardiff.
As there are more than 20 rating points between themselves and Italy, the All Blacks will not get any reward if they beat the Azzurri in Rome this Saturday.
However, four tries in that match would see them set a new world record for tries scored by a leading nation in a calendar year.
Ian Foster’s entertainers have racked up 89 tries and are closing in fast on Argentina’s all-time record of 92, set in 2003.
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Boks aiming to break Cardiff jinx
Without any points to play for, New Zealand will be replaced as the world’s No.1 – regardless of how well they fare at the Stade Olimpico, a venue where Italy hasn’t won since March 2013 – if the Springboks buck the recent trend of results in Cardiff.
Wales have beaten South Africa on their last four visits to the Millennium Stadium, but if the match goes the same way as the World Cup 2019 semifinal between the teams, and the Springboks win, the reigning world champions will leapfrog the All Blacks – if the margin is more than 15 points.
Defeat could send Wales to a record-equalling low of 10th, depending on the outcome of the earlier kick-off in Dublin between Ireland and Japan.
A repeat of their 2019 World Cup win over the Irish would send the Brave Blossoms shooting up the ranking by two places to eighth – as long as Wales and Argentina are also beaten.
Pumas hope to summon the spirit of 2007
Los Pumas travel to Paris to play a France side full of youthful exuberance.
The prospect of seeing Antoine Dupont lining up at scrumhalf inside Mathieu Jalibert and Romain Ntamack has everyone drooling.
Argentina could, however, end up the higher-ranked of the two teams if they win at the Stade de France – a venue they have fond memories of from their win over France there in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup.
For Scotland, a record-equalling high of fifth is in their sights if they can snap Australia’s five-game winning streak at Murrayfield on Sunday and other results fall in their favour.
England is safe in fourth, unless they are victims of a massive upset at home to Tonga and Ireland do the business against Japan.
Elsewhere, big gains are possible for Spain and Rugby Europe Championship rivals Romania if they manage to beat higher-ranked opposition in Fiji and recent Americas One World Cup 2023 qualifiers Uruguay, respectively.
Talking of World Cup 2023 qualifiers, the Netherlands and Russia meet in Amsterdam as the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 kicks back into life after a four-month hiatus.
A first win at this level for 21 years by more than 15 points would see the Dutch reach their highest-ever position of 22nd.