Hong Kong have claimed the mantle of the final climbers of 2013 in the IRB World Rankings after recording back-to-back victories over Belgium in the last seven days, a series win which lifts them four places to a new high of 25th.
The Asian side ran out 28-17 winners in the first match in Hong Kong, but then needed a last gasp drop goal to sneak an 18-15 victory in the second encounter. There are now three Asian nations in the top 25 with Japan 14th and Korea 24th.
Belgium had been the higher ranked side going into the two-match series but the two defeats means they slide two places to 27th. Chile and Moldova also fall one place as a result of Hong Kong’s four-place climb.
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The last 12 months have seen a number of nations making great gains and losses in the IRB World Rankings, but one thing has remained constant in world champions New Zealand occupying the number one spot.
New Zealand have been the number one side for a record 49 months now and after becoming the first nation to go through a calendar year unbeaten in the professional era their cushion over South Africa sits at 4.47 rating points.
The Springboks are the only other nation to remain unchanged all year, although six others will end 2013 in the same position as they began it in Australia (third), Portugal (22nd), Thailand (59th), Bosnia & Herzegovina (90th), Monaco (92nd) and Greece (96th).
While the All Blacks celebrate ending a year at number one for the ninth time since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003, there are other nations with cause to celebrate their own achievements over the last 12 months.
The honour of being the biggest climbers in 2013 belongs to Hungary, who have risen 18 places to 65th after recording victories over Austria, Bulgaria and Slovenia in the European Nations Cup, the latter two by convincing margins.
Highs and lows
Hungary – where the European qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2015 began in October 2012 – were not alone in making a climb into double figures with Moldova, Switzerland and Nigeria also surging up the rankings.
Moldova have climbed 10 places to 28th and kept themselves in the RWC 2015 qualification picture, while Switzerland will end the year 13 places higher than they began it in 39th after going unbeaten in the European Nations Cup and Nigeria up 12 places to 79th.
But while some nations can celebrate a prosperous 2013, on the other side of the coin there were a number of nations sliding down the rankings with Croatia, Kazakhstan and Uganda all falling 10 places.
Kazakhstan suffered a surprise loss to Thailand in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I back in March and they were beaten convincingly by Sri Lanka a few days later, results which see them end 2013 in 45th place.
Uganda, like Kazakhstan, saw their involvement in the RWC 2015 qualification process end in this calendar year, having suffered heavy defeats to Kenya and Madagascar in the Africa Cup Division 1A to result in relegation and a slide to 51st.
These two nations did at least win a match in 2013, unlike Croatia who lost all four of their matches in the European Nations Cup and as a result have slide to 55th.
The IRB World Rankings welcomed a new member in 2013 in Indonesia, who entered with a rating of 30.00 – which equates to joint 97th with American Samoa and United Arab Emirates – after becoming a Full Member Union of the International Rugby Board in November.