There was a buzz around the IRB World Rankings in 2012 like never before as the 12 directly qualified teams for Rugby World Cup 2015 battled to secure the best possible banding for the Pool Allocation Draw in London on 3 December.
After a packed year of international rugby there were ultimately only two of these 12 teams in a different band to that which they had begun 2012 in – Wales falling to ninth after seven successive defeats post Grand Slam elation and Samoa climbing to a new high of seventh.
Samoa’s elevation, helped by victory over Wales in Cardiff, has lifted a Pacific Island nation into the top eight of the IRB World Rankings for the first time, the previous best of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa being ninth place.
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While Samoa are celebrating a best ever ranking and climb of four places in 2012, a familiar force continues to sit atop the rankings in New Zealand, the world champions having celebrated their third anniversary as the number one side in the world on 16 November.
The All Blacks, who won 12, drew one and lost one of their 14 Tests in 2012, have now occupied top spot for just over 80 per cent of the time since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003 and were the only side to remain stationary throughout the year.
Seven other teams – England, Ireland, Japan, Russia, Cook Islands, Malaysia and Tahiti – also ended the year where they began it, but moved up or down over the course of 2012, a year which saw seven Unions enter the rankings for the first time to swell the numbers to 100.
New additions in 2012
Mexico, Pakistan and the Philippines entered the rankings in March, with Mauritius, American Samoa, the United Arab Emirates and Greece – the last two as the two newest IRB Full Member Unions – following in December.
Of these seven nations, the Philippines are the ones to have left their mark, ending the year 15 places higher than they entered the rankings after winning the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division 1 title on home soil in April to earn their place alongside the continent’s elite in 2013.
The Philippines’ story is a remarkable one as it was only in 2008 that they were playing in the sixth tier of the Asian 5 Nations pyramid, and it is not just their Fifteens side enjoying success as they qualified for RWC Sevens 2013 – their country’s first national team to reach a World Cup.
This 15-place gain makes the Philippines – along with Colombia – the biggest climbers in 2012, the South Americans actually jumping 17 places in the space of a week after beating the higher ranked Peru and Venezuela in the start of RWC 2015 qualifying in the region.
Madagascar were the other nation to enjoy a climb into double figures, ending the year 14 places higher than they began it in 42nd after beating the higher ranked Morocco and Namibia in the start of African qualifying for RWC 2015 in July.
Thirty-five thousand rugby-mad fans had packed into the Mahamasina Stadium to see Madagascar beat Morocco 35-28 to set up the Africa Cup Division 1B final with Namibia, but that figure was topped a few days later when 40,000 saw the hosts beat the RWC 2011 participants 57-54.
New highs and lows
But while the Philippines, Colombia and Madagascar had cause to celebrate huge climbs over the last 12 months, there were four nations who suffered falls in double figures in the Czech Republic, Moldova, Singapore and St Vincent & The Grenadines.
Of this quartet, Singapore plummeted the most places over the course of 2012 with a 13-place drop to 65th on the back of losses to Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei and the Philippines in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I in April.
St Vincent & The Grenadines and the Czech Republic now occupy their lowest ever positions since the IRB World Rankings were introduced, two of 10 nations to end the year in the same boat.
Scotland are one of those, the 21-15 loss to Tonga in their last Test of 2012 dropping them once more to 12th, equalling their lowest ever position which they had also fallen to after picking up the Six Nations wooden spoon in March.
On the other hand, seven nations have ended the year with their best ever position with Samoa joined by Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Malta, Senegal and Tahiti.
Spain entered the top 20 for the first time in February and have been there ever since, ending the year in 18th. Belgium also rose four places in 2012 and are now 21st after beating Hong Kong and Zimbabwe to win the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations in December.