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Opinion: World Rugby Rankings Highlight There Is A New World Order At Work

The November International Test series’ are already fading into memory but before they go, let us just recognise that what fans witnessed last month was the confirmation of a new world order in the rugby ranks.

The southern hemisphere ‘big three’ of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have long made the trip north each year to enjoy a few weeks on tour while picking off the home nations with routine ease.

Such has been the way of things for so long. Even after rugby union made the leap into the professional ranks, the southern nations continued to terrorise their hosts across Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland each November.

Though France had always had the class and depth to buck this trend and offer more than just a fleeting obstacle against the marauding Rugby Championship giants, for the rest there was never more than a realistic ambition to keep the score somewhere south of those seen at cricket grounds.

Over the last half-decade, however, the relentless southern tide appeared to wane and finally turn. No longer were the home nations mere lambs marched out onto the pitch to be slaughtered in front of tens of thousands of despondent home supporters.

Suddenly, all those years of professional endeavour and hard work bridged the gap between the north and south. Tests against the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies became less feared and more looked forward to.

They became opportunities for the nations on the western edges of Europe to show the world that they were finally ready to dine at the top table of rugby.

Though the All Blacks have remained as steadfast as ever, holding dominion over the top spot in the world rugby rankings, they have been beaten in recent seasons by northern nations, first by England in 2012 and then again by Ireland in 2016.

Though both sides have since suffered defeats to the world champions, they have shown the rest how to win against the best.

Scotland almost managed the same feat last month, only to fall agonisingly short. The measure of Scottish progression was such that rather than being pleased with holding the world champions close, they were dejected by what they deemed was a missed opportunity.

Elsewhere this past month, South Africa was schooled by Ireland, Australia was emphatically put to the sword by England and then again by Scotland before Wales rescued what was a below-par series with a much-needed victory over the weary Springboks.

While New Zealand maintained their aura of superiority, they are no longer the invincible All Blacks. They are now just the yardstick against which to be measured. They are finally within reach.

As for Australia and South Africa, they return home carrying the painful baggage of knowing that they no longer superior to their northern cousins.

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At the conclusion of the enthralling November Series, any doubt over the status of the home nations has been resoundingly put to bed with the update of the rugby world ranking.

Source: World Rugby

New Zealand continue their supremacy, tracked by an England side intent on overthrowing Steve Hansen’s side. Below this pursuit, Ireland and Scotland sit comfortably in third and fifth, respectively, sandwiching Australia in fourth.

South Africa reside in an unfamiliar sixth, while Wales’ indifferent form sees them in seventh.

For many years the world rankings were a plaything of the southern giants, each fighting to be on top, while the Five and then Six Nations sides fought for the scraps in the top tier of rugby nations.

Now, despite the implosion of the once great France and the out-of-sorts Wales, three of the top five sides in the ranks are assuredly held by countries found north of the equator.

Dare it be said that we are witnessing the birth of a new world order in international rugby? Less than two years out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, are we to see the label of underdog be assigned to the Springboks and Wallabies?

While they continue to pose a real threat to all international sides and will certainly bounce back from their respective dips in form, make no mistake, Australia and South Africa no longer hold a mental advantage over teams from these shores.

Instead, they are merely another Test side that is to be respected, but most definitely there for the taking.

As New Zealand watches its peers being swallowed up by the uprising from the north, they will be all too aware that despite their superiority, they too are fallible.

Barely a year ago Ireland notched up a whopping five tries against the All Blacks when they finally ended a 111-year losing streak and claimed a famous 40 – 29 scalp.

It was a result that became a rallying cry to all those sides with aspirations of greatness. Players emerging from the academy systems no longer fear the southern sides as previous generations once did. While they are rightly respected, they have become targets against which to prove themselves.

These are the early years of a brave new world for northern hemisphere rugby. Riding a wave of confidence, we are now speeding towards a World Cup where most of the favourites are likely set to test themselves against each other at the Six Nations.

Whether the new landscape endures until 2019 remains to be seen but there is plenty evidence to suggest this could be just the beginning.

 

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About Gary Brennan

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