The eight matches played so far at Rugby World Cup 2011 may have resulted in only one positional change in the latest IRB World Rankings, but there was no shortage of thrills and spills with Wales, Argentina and Romania all coming agonisingly close to causing upsets.
England are the side on the rise, swapping places with France to take over fourth spot and the mantle as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the rankings behind New Zealand, Australia and South Africa after their tense 13-9 victory over Argentina.
Just when it had seemed that the passion of Los Pumas would carry them to victory over the higher ranked England in the first Test at the impressive Otago Stadium, replacement Ben Youngs broke through to score the only try of the match and leave Argentina ninth in the rankings.
It was another replacement who provided the decisive score in Wellington as Francois Hougaard dived over for a try which gave defending champions South Africa a slender 17-16 victory over Wales in their much-anticipated Pool D encounter on Sunday.
The win ensured that South Africa retain third spot, reducing the deficit to Australia by a rating point, and left a Welsh side led by the youngest ever Rugby World Cup captain in Sam Warburton in sixth and now four points adrift of France.
These matches were two of only three over the weekend involving sides ranked within five places of each other, the other being Fiji’s Pool D encounter with Namibia at the Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday.
Vereniki Goneva was the star of the show with four tries as Fiji, quarter-finalists at France 2007, ran out 49-25 winners to close the gap to Canada above them in 14th, albeit only by just under two tenths. Namibia remain 20th, the lowest ranked of the participating teams at RWC 2011.
Brave efforts go unrewarded
The weekend’s other five matches had no impact on the IRB World Rankings, the difference between the two opponents too great, as highlighted by the 11 places and 18.07 rating points which separate RWC 2011 hosts New Zealand and Tonga.
While New Zealand’s victory over 12th ranked Tonga in the opening match was never in doubt after braces from Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui, the same could not be said for the outcomes in Invercargill, Auckland and New Plymouth where upsets looked on the cards for a time.
Lying 10 places below their opponents, 17th ranked Romania fought back to lead 24-21 with 13 minutes remaining in Invercargill, only for two tries by Simon Danielli to spare Scotland’s blushes with a 34-24 victory in Pool B.
France were also winners on Saturday, three tries in the last 11 minutes sealing a 47-21 victory over Japan, who had battled gallantly and given Les Bleus plenty to think about. France’s win over 13th ranked Japan did not improve their rating, allowing England to creep above them.
Scotland also remain unchanged in seventh after their victory over Romania, just ahead of Ireland who were made to work hard for a 22-10 win over the 18th ranked USA Eagles, while four second-half tries saw Australia run out 32-6 winners over Italy in the other Pool C encounter.