The Tri Nations giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa may have all tasted victories last weekend, but the busy month of November truly gets underway on Saturday with the top 12 nations in the IRB World Rankings all in action.
Whatever happens across the matches in Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Nantes and Verona, the southern hemisphere nations will preserve their status as the top three in the world, although perhaps in a slightly different order.
New Zealand cannot surrender their grip on top spot, even if they were to suffer a first loss to Scotland in 105 years. However, their advantage over Australia – which stood at more than nine points just two weeks ago – could be slashed to as little as just 1.14.
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For this to happen the All Blacks would have to lose by more than 15 points at Murrayfield and Australia also avenge their loss to England on home soil in the summer with a similar margin of victory at Twickenham.
The All Blacks’ smallest margin of victory over Scotland in the last decade has been 19 points and a first ever defeat would send shockwaves through the world of rugby as well as ensure the Scots rise to a new high in the rankings, potentially to fourth if England, Ireland and France lose.
A 27th successive victory for New Zealand will have no impact on their rating of 93.04 – some 13 points more than Scotland’s – but could see their hosts in the Scottish capital slip one place to eighth if Argentina overcome Italy in Verona.
Australia, the only side to beat New Zealand this year, will take to the Twickenham turf in the knowledge that anything other than victory puts their second place in the rankings at stake, a defeat allied with a South African win in Wales will see the Springboks return to second.
If Australia do slip to a first defeat at Twickenham since 2005, then it is possible that a victorious New Zealand side could see their cushion at the top of the rankings push through the six-point barrier, even if South Africa run riot against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Long wait for Welsh win
Wales have only ever beaten South Africa once – 29-19 in June 1999 – and if they can break an 11-game losing streak then it is possible to improve their current ranking of ninth, although by just how many places will depend on other results.
Ireland and France, like the All Blacks, cannot improve their rating even with emphatic victories over Samoa and Fiji respectively, sides ranked six places below them going into the encounters at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and the Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes.
A victory, though, could see Ireland return to fifth only a week after losing it to England on the back of a 23-21 loss to South Africa in the first ever rugby international at the Aviva Stadium. For this to happen England must lose to Australia.
On the other side of the coin, defeats for Ireland and France could prove costly with potential falls of two places, meaning Les Bleus would surrender their tag as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the IRB World Rankings.
Unfortunately for Fiji and Samoa, the four point deficit to Wales in ninth means that even a convincing defeat for the Welsh at the hands of South Africa and victories for the islanders by more than 15 points cannot improve their standing of 10th and 11th.
Fiji, though, could close to within thousandths of their next opponents Wales with Argentina also potentially sliding into their clutches if they suffer a first loss on Italian shores since November 1998. If the Pumas are beaten, then Italy have the potential to climb above both Fiji and Samoa.
Portugal on the rise?
There are two other internationals taking place in Europe involving Tier 2 nations with Portugal hosting USA in Lisbon and Canada, who kicked off their tour with a 43-12 defeat of Belgium last weekend, taking on Spain in Madrid.
Only nine places separate the four teams in the IRB World Rankings with Canada the highest at 14th and their hosts Spain the lowest in 23rd. As a result even an emphatic victory in the first ever meeting between the sides will only improve Canada’s rating by a couple of tenths.
The good news for Canada is that as long as they win they cannot be usurped by their North American rivals, who currently sit a place below them. However, their advantage could be reduced to less than a point.
Spain cannot slip from 23rd whatever the margin of defeat, but 22nd ranked Portugal could actually find themselves on the climb even if they lose to the USA Eagles, a side they have only ever met once before – a 61-5 defeat in Lisbon back in April 1998.
This will depend on the outcome of the Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifier between Uruguay and Romania in Montevideo, the first leg of a play-off that will determine who fills the final place available for the tournament in New Zealand.
World Cup play-off
If Uruguay suffer defeat on home soil then they will slip below a losing Portugal side with Romania – bidding to preserve an ever-present appearance record at Rugby World Cups – climbing a minimum of one place from 19th.
Uruguay can only return to the top 20 with victory by more than 15 points, and then only if Portugal fail to mark coach Errol Brain’s first Test in charge with a win by the same margin, the latter resulting in Os Lobos replacing Namibia and the Uruguayans staying put in 21st.
Romania cannot slide from 19th even in defeat, although the same is cannot be said for Canada and USA if they fail to test victory on Saturday. The Eagles will drop below Tonga – and potentially Romania – with defeat by Portugal, while Canada can only drop from 14th if they lose by more than 15 points or USA win.
There are also three matches in the European Nations Cup 2012 which can impact the IRB World Rankings, the exception being Armenia versus Andorra in Division 2B as the former is not yet a Full Member Union of the International Rugby Board and therefore not ranked.
Belgium are the higher ranked of the six other teams at 28th, a position they will be looking to preserve when they travel to Prague to tackle the Czech Republic. A victory could take Belgium as high as 24th and condemn their hosts to a slide by up to six places to 37th.
The other end
On the other hand a Czech victory could lift them into the top 30 for the first time since June 2007, with one by more than 15 points making them the higher ranked of the opponents with Belgium slipping to 30th.
Poland also host Moldova in the weekend’s other Division 1B match with the visitors ranked one place higher at 37th. That gap could grow significantly after the final whistle with Moldova potentially rising as high as 31st and Poland slumping to 42nd depending on the result.
Moldova’s slide would not be as bad, only a single place with a first ever defeat by Poland, while their hosts will climb two or three places depending on the margin of a victory in Gdynia.
The other European Nations Cup encounter on Saturday concerns the bottom end of the rankings with 94th ranked Luxembourg hosting Bulgaria, the side four places above them, in Division 2D.
Luxembourg have a cushion of 5.84 points over Finland so even an emphatic loss against Bulgaria will not result in them slipping to the foot of the IRB World Rankings, although it could see their visitors surge up eight or nine places.
Bulgaria will fall two places with a narrow loss, but if they were to lose by more than 15 points then they would take over Luxembourg’s previous position with their conquerors rising to 92nd and also above Vanuatu.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.