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New entry at No.1 fuels World Cup fire

Sport just loves rankings. It’s as if the scoreboard doesn’t provide enough insight and there has to be something else riding on an event.

Boxing, for example, exists on which challenger is listed ‘next in line’; athletics thrives on lists of season’s bests and all-time; cricket ranks batsmen and bowlers as well as teams in all forms of the game.

Football, meanwhile ranks national teams but also adopted its mysterious ‘co-efficient’ figure for national leagues to determine qualification for club tournaments. Even then, the game stands some way short of American sports, notably baseball where every player’s record looks like a Stock Exchange listing which is, of course, essentially what they are.

Rankings provide a talking point, though often in talk about them not being entirely accurate.

In rugby, rankings are drawn up by the world governing body. You could argue that they help to provide an overall picture of form between World Cups. But then points are also awarded during World Cups.

World Rugby’s rankings are calculated using that they call a ‘Points Exchange’ system in which teams take points off each other depending on their head-to-head result. These are based on relative strength of each team, the margin of victory and venue. Each country has a rating of between 0 and 100, with the top team “normally having a rating above 90”.

Two weeks ago, Wales could have gone to the top of the world rankings with victory over England. They lost.

A week later, England could have taken top spot with a big win in Cardiff. They lost, but Wales got their revenge and in the process reached No1 for the first time. As a result, New Zealand were deposed for the first time in a decade.

Another week further on and No1 was up for grabs again and this time it would have a green hue if Ireland could beat England at Twickenham. But they also lost.

England were unwilling king-makers and recorded a big victory which a) happily denied Ireland while b) unfortunately preserving a Welsh hold on top spot.

As it stands, Wales are on 89.43 points, a fraction ahead of the All Blacks on 89.40 with England rising from fifth to third as they beat the Irish. (Incidentally, American Samoa are bottom of the 105 teams listed on 19 points.)

Credit to Wales, they have reached that pinnacle with consistent results over a lengthy period of time under Warren Gatland, though they will get little thanks as going into a World Cup where the All Blacks have to prove their place as top dogs is a dangerous position to be in for everyone else.