With only two weeks to go until the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw is held in London, the battle to secure the best possible IRB World Ranking could go right down to the wire after Samoa upset Wales again in Cardiff.
Samoa’s 26-19 victory over Six Nations champions Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Friday lifts them one place to ninth and just 0.16 rating points away from a place in the second band of seeds for RWC 2015.
Cardiff has been a happy hunting ground for Samoa with two wins over Wales in Rugby World Cup matches, and the Welsh are now in danger of slipping out of band two after falling two places to sixth on the back of a fifth successive Test defeat.
They now travel to France to play Les Bleus – again the only northern hemisphere side to beat a touring side over the weekend – knowing that another upset could see them climb to a new high in the rankings and condemn Wales or Ireland to a band three spot.
On 3 December, the IRB World Rankings will be used to determine the seeding of the 12 directly qualified teams from RWC 2011 with the top four teams becoming band one and guaranteed to avoid each other until the knockout stages of England 2015.
The teams ranked five to eight will form band two and the remaining four teams band three with each band drawn randomly across the four pools for RWC 2015.
If the draw was to take place today, the bands would be as follows:
Band 1: New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France
Band 2: England, Argentina, Ireland, Wales
Band 3: Samoa, Scotland, Italy, Tonga
France currently hold the coveted fourth spot after backing up their 33-6 rout of Australia with a hard-fought 39-22 victory over Argentina in Lille, Frédéric Michalak’s last penalty ensuring Les Bleus secured the maximum gain with victory by more than 15 points.
That kick – taking the returning fly half’s tally to 24 points – means France now have a 3.03 rating point cushion over England after the RWC 2015 hosts slipped to a 20-14 loss to Australia at Twickenham.
England had been the bookmakers’ favourites to beat the Wallabies on Saturday, but they missed their chance to return to the top seeding bracket, falling short against an Australian team determined to get their European tour back on track.
England have the opportunity to determine their own fate but it’s a tall order as their two remaining Tests are against the top two sides in the world with South Africa next up following by New Zealand on 1 December.
South Africa strengthened their grip on second place with a 21-10 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. The defeat, allied with Samoa’s win, means Scotland have slipped to 10th place in the rankings.
There was better news for Ireland, despite them not being able to influence the rankings as a result of playing a non-cap match with Fiji. Argentina and Ireland both climb one place to sixth and seventh respectively as a result of Wales’ fall.
Biggest climbers of the week
However, the sides ranked sixth to ninth are separated by just 1.1 rating points going into this weekend’s matches when Ireland tackle Argentina in Dublin, Wales host New Zealand in Cardiff and Samoa tackle France.
New Zealand marked their third anniversary atop the IRB World Rankings with a 42-10 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, but the result at no impact on either side’s rating given the difference between them.
Tonga were also in action this weekend in the IRB International Rugby Series in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, and narrowly edged the USA Eagles 22-13. Tonga remain 12th, albeit now slightly closer to Italy above them and further above Canada below them.
The USA climb one place to 15th despite the defeat, albeit only by virtue the fact that Georgia suffered a last gasp 25-22 loss to Japan in the first meeting between the two sides on Georgian soil. Japan remains 15th after the win and slightly closer to Fiji above them.
Canada were also victorious in Colwyn Bay after beating Russia 35-3 but the two sides remain 13th and 20th respectively.
Another European side on the move was Portugal, who have climbed three places to 21st on the back of a 28-22 victory over Chile in Santiago on Saturday to complete a successful South American tour, having beaten Uruguay a week earlier.
Portugal - the biggest climbers of the week - have effectively swapped places with Namibia, who drop to 24th after losing 38-37 to Spain in the final match of the Tri Nations series on home soil in Windhoek. It has also been a good week for Spain with victory over Zimbabwe on Tuesday and helped them cut the deficit to Romania in 18th.
RWC 2015 qualifier focus
While the race to secure the best seeding for RWC 2015 among the directly qualified teams may be dominating headlines in Europe, the continent’s qualification process for England 2015 continued over the weekend with five matches.
Only three had any impact on the rankings with Cyprus’ 54-20 win over Austria in Division 2C of the European Nations Cup and Greece’s narrow 22-17 defeat of Bosnia & Herzegovina in Division 2D not as a result of one or both teams not being IRB Full Member Unions and therefore not ranked.
Ukraine’s 42-15 win over the Czech Republic in Division 1B did not improve their position of 31st, but it did consign their visitors to a three place fall to 47th. Ukraine, though, are now only just over two tenths behind Zimbabwe above them after they lost 47-14 to Spain in midweek.
That loss, allied with Germany’s 32-14 win over Moldova in the weekend’s other Division 1B fixture means the two sides swap places with the Germans taking over 29th position. Moldova fall one to 39th as a result of their loss and the Netherlands’ 24-7 win over Switzerland.
While the Netherlands climb one to 38th, the defeat sees Switzerland drop below Bermuda and Papua New Guinea to 52nd.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at12:00 UK time.