World Cup Power rankings: Week one
SPOTLIGHT: The first week of action certainly delivered at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and there are a number of alterations needed to the initial power rankings from before the tournament opener.
All teams have now played at least one game at the tournament and from Uruguay’s shock win over Fiji to Ireland’s complete domination of Scotland, a number of teams are set to rise and fall in the rankings below.
One position which has not changed, however, is that of the team we had leading the way going into the competition.
- New Zealand (Previous rank: 1)
Only the one game for the All Blacks so far, although it was a relatively comfortable win over their biggest rivals in Pool B, South Africa. Unless Italy can muster something special, Steve Hansen and his side are now unlikely to be too sternly tested before the quarter-finals of the competition.
- Ireland (Previous rank: 4, up 2)
Ireland blew Scotland away in their tournament opener and although Joe Schmidt’s side have been favoured to top Pool A since the group draws were made, very few expected the comprehensive nature of the win. A potential banana skin against hosts Japan awaits this weekend, but if they can get through that unscathed, they should secure favourable seeding for the knockout rounds.
- England (Previous rank: 3)
Eddie Jones’ side are one of the few to have played two games already and they have dealt with both professionally. The crunch games are yet to come for England, though. Thus their lack of movement in these rankings with Argentina and France next up. That said, their defence and set-piece are both standing out.
- South Africa (Previous rank: 2, down 2)
The Springboks are a little unlucky to drop here, given that their only game has come against New Zealand. That said, while they were physical in defence and boasted a strong set-piece in that game with the All Blacks, their precision in their attacking phase play and kicking game left a little to be desired. It won’t prevent them making the quarter-finals, but it could be an issue beyond that.
- Wales (Previous rank: 5)
Wales and Warren Gatland got their World Cup underway with a win over Georgia, although they will refrain from too much enthusiasm with the Lelos enjoying a strong spell between the 30th and 70th minute. It was efficient and comfortable from Wales, without the killer edge that they may need to discover against Australia this weekend.
- Australia (Previous rank: 6)
A similar story to Wales for Australia who did a solid job against Fiji but came away with a number of areas they need to work on if they want to progress in the knockout rounds. Australia and Wales are due to face each other in Tokyo on Sunday, a contest which should prove pivotal in deciding the final standings of Pool D, especially following Fiji’s shock loss to Uruguay.
- France (Previous rank: 7)
An extremely bright first half from France against Argentina had them initially pencilled in for a modest rise here, although an error-strewn second half was far more reminiscent of France’s performances over the last four years. Crucially, though, they got the win and are now in a good position to make the quarter-finals.
- Japan (Previous rank: 10, up 2)
Japan’s opener against Russia wasn’t without its errors and nervous moments for the hosts, even though they secured the bonus point win and there were moments of promise there for Jamie Joseph’s side. If they can knock off the rust further against Ireland in Shizuoka on Saturday, they will fancy their chances of beating Samoa and Scotland and making the knockout rounds.
- Argentina (Previous rank: 9)
No alteration for Argentina who, true to the form books, fell to a narrow loss to France on Saturday. It now means that they will need to win against England to have any chance of making the quarter-finals. It’s an outcome their quality of player is capable of, although results in recent years for both sides show that it is unlikely.
- Italy (Previous rank: 12, up 2)
Slightly nervy in their opener against Namibia, before looking much more clinical against Canada. The two big games in Pool B still await Italy despite wrapping up a full 10 points from their opening two games. They have at least given themselves a puncher’s chance of qualification.
- Georgia (Previous rank: 13, up 2)
The Lelos had 40 minutes of very competitive rugby against Wales, which will buoy them ahead of taking on the rest of their Pool D opponents. Their slow start was too much to come back from, however, and their rise here is more to do with the falls of Scotland and Fiji than it is with their loss to Wales.
- Scotland (Previous rank: 8, down 4)
It really was a woeful performance from Scotland in Yokohama against Ireland. As good as their Six Nations rivals were, Scotland were equally bad. The schedule now works against them, as they build to a potentially climactic contest with Japan at the end of the pool – assuming they can get passed Samoa first.
- Samoa (Previous rank: 14, up 1)
Samoa were lucky against Russia in terms of two of their players not seeing red cards for high tackles, although the difference in class did begin to show in the second half. They could end Scotland’s World Cup ambitions on Monday when the two sides meet in Kobe, although the Europeans will still be the favourites going in.
- Uruguay (Previous rank: 17, up 3)
Uruguay put in a wonderfully composed and ambitious performance against Fiji and were rewarded with four points in what is only the third World Cup win in their history. Context says Fiji rotated their squad and were on a short turnaround and that Uruguay are not going to qualify from Pool D, but their performance in Kamaishi warrants them this bump up the rankings.
- Fiji (Previous: 11, down 4)
Fiji were competitive with Australia initially before the Wallabies tightened up their game. Then a heavily rotated side were part of a surprising loss to Uruguay on Wednesday. They still have the players to beat Georgia and at least worry Wales, but the two losses so far have realistically ended any hopes they may have had of reaching the knockout rounds.
- Tonga (Previous rank: 16)
Expectations were, more or less, met in Tonga’s opening game of the World Cup. They kept the scoreline respectable against England and were able to disrupt some of the European side’s phase play, but they never really looked like troubling England’s try line, let alone the result.
- USA (Previous rank: 15, down 2)
The USA really didn’t offer any sort of threat to England on Thursday in Kobe. They struggled to maintain possession, breach the English defence and live with their opponent’s set-piece. They will need to offer more when they play France next Wednesday.
- Namibia (Previous rank: 18)
They had moments of real quality against Italy where they looked as though they could cause problems for the tier one teams, although they were isolated and the Azzurri never really had to go any further than third gear to see off the challenge. The African nation will have their game with Canada well and truly circled.
- Russia (Previous rank: 20, up 1)
Russia may have lost both their games so far in the tournament, but they have shown an abundance of heart and no lack of ability in the process, thus their minor jump up the rankings. They rattled Japan in the opener and then were extremely unlucky not to get something from their game with Samoa where the Islanders were fortunate not to see red cards for two of their players, both of whom have since been cited.
- Canada (Previous rank: 19, down 1)
Comfortably beaten by an Italian team on a short turnaround, it was far from the most encouraging of World Cup openers for Canada. On that form, they will be hard-pressed to keep New Zealand and South Africa to less than a point a minute in their upcoming match-ups. What chances Canada did create were prematurely ended by a litany of handling errors.
By Alex Shaw, RugbyPass