Monday, December 7, 2009

Australia defeat by Wales at the Millennium Stadium

Australia arrived in Europe seeking a first Grand Slam over the Home Unions in 25 years, but defeat by Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday could send them plummeting to their lowest ever position of sixth in the IRB Rankings.

The Wallabies' first loss to Scotland in 27 years last weekend has seen their cushion over France and Ireland slashed to just under eight tenths and put their third place in the rankings under serious threat.

If Wales repeat their 21-18 success of 12 months ago and France beat New Zealand or Six Nations champions Ireland beat Tri-Nations winners South Africa then Robbie Deans' side will surrender that third spot.

Australia could actually drop as low as sixth if they lose by more than 15 points in Cardiff and both France and Ireland record victories, with their conquerors Wales also then climbing above the Wallabies.

Wales rose two places to sixth after beating Argentina 33-16 last weekend, but could occupy third spot with an emphatic win and losses for France and Ireland - albeit still around eight points behind New Zealand and South Africa.

France and Ireland will go into the final weekend of the year-end internationals separated by mere thousandths of a rating point in the battle for the mantle of the leading northern hemisphere nation.

Les Bleus have already beaten New Zealand once this year in Dunedin and upset world champions South Africa in Toulouse a fortnight ago, a result which saw the All Blacks return to the summit of the IRB World Rankings.

The last time the sides met in Europe was in the quarter-finals of World Cup 2007 when France ended New Zealand hopes with a 20-18 victory in Cardiff, so the All Blacks will be eager to banish those painful memories.

If the All Blacks want to remain unbeaten on this tour and keep hold of that number one ranking they must win in Marseille, because even a draw will see them swap places with the Springboks if they win in Ireland.

New Zealand and South Africa will not end 2009 outside of the top two, such is their present cushion over the nations below them. However both will be eager to finish the year on top of the IRB World Rankings.

Three years have passed since Ireland and South Africa last locked horns, the home side having run out 32-15 winners in Dublin on that occasion and another success would cap a year to remember for Emerald Isle.

If Ireland make it three wins in a row against the Springboks then they can reclaim the mantle of leading northern hemisphere nation, provided Les Bleus lose or the Irish triumph by more than 15 points and France do not.

England are the only nation in the top 10 not in action this weekend, but they could still climb one place to sixth if Wales lose to Australia. They will also fall to eighth if Argentina end their tour on a winning note in Scotland.

Scotland, themselves aiming for a clean sweep of victories under new coach Andy Robinson, cannot fall from their current ranking of ninth, even with an emphatic defeat by the side who knocked them out of RWC 2007 in the quarter-finals and have not lost at Murrayfield since 1990.

However, if they lose by more than 15 points on home soil and Fiji win by a similar margin over Romania at the stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest then the two sides will be separated by just one hundredth.

Eighteen years have passed since Fiji last met Romania, at RWC 1991 when the latter triumphed 17-15 in Brive. The Fijians sit nine places above their hosts in the IRB World Rankings and know that anything other than victory in Bucharest could see them slip out of the top 10.

If Fiji do suffer defeat, then Samoa can overtake them if they preserve their unbeaten record against Italy when the sides meet in Ascoli Piceno on Saturday.

A Samoan victory will see their hosts fall one to 13th, swapping places with Japan who have enjoyed back to back wins over Canada this month. However if Italy can defeat the islanders then they will take over Samoa's 11th place, regardless of the winning margin.

USA and Georgia - ranked 17th and 18th - are not in action this weekend, but both sides could gain one or two places nonetheless, depending on results in Canada, Romania and Portugal.

Canada, who have suffered two big losses to Japan already this month, face Russia in Burnaby in the knowledge that defeat could see them plummet five places to 19th - their lowest ever position since the rankings began in October 2003.

There are a number of permutations required for Kieran Crowley's side to make that drop with Romania needing to beat the higher ranked Fiji and Tonga overcome Portugal in Lisbon.

A Russian victory will see them climb two places to 14th above Canada and Tonga, regardless of the latter's result in Portugal. Russia could actually close to just four tenths behind Italy, if they enjoy an emphatic win and the Azzurri lose by more than 15 points to Samoa.

On the other side of the coin, Russia could themselves fall to 19th if they lose and Romania win, an outcome which may see the sides simply swap places with the Romanians taking over 16th.

Even with defeat, Romania cannot lose 19th place given their present cushion of more than four points on Uruguay. However Los Teros, who missed out on the Americas 2 spot at RWC 2011 after losing to USA last weekend, can see Portugal take over 20th again.

Tonga could drop to 19th if they lose their first ever meeting with Portugal, who themselves could fall one place to 22nd if they lose by more than 15 points and Namibia beat Tunisia to qualify for RWC 2011.

Tunisia, who trail by five points going into the second leg of the African play-off in Windhoek, currently occupy 30th spot and will not move from there in defeat, which will force them into the cross-continental play-off in a bid to secure their first ever World Cup appearance.

By contrast, if Tunisia taste a first victory on Namibian soil then they will jump four places to 26th and condemn their hosts to a three place fall to 25th and taking away their gain in November with the first leg triumph and win in Portugal.

Tunisia can actually end the weekend not only celebrating a place in Pool D alongside South Africa, Wales, Fiji and Samoa, but as the higher ranked side if they win by more than 15 points with Namibia sliding to 26th.

The final match that can impact the IRB World Rankings is the European Nations Cup Division 3A tussle between Andorra and Serbia on Sunday. The Serbians currently occupy 57th spot, 14 places and 3.5 rating points above their hosts in Andorra La Vella.

If Serbia can repeat their 32-7 success in the reverse fixture last year then they will climb two to 55th and condemn Andorra to a fall of between one and seven places. A home victory will see Andorra climb a minimum of five places, with Serbia sliding up to three spots in defeat.

IRB world rankings:

(Previous week in brackets)

1(1) New Zealand 90.88

2(2) South Africa 89.97

3(3) Australia 83.98

4(4) France 83.20

5(5) Ireland 83.20

6(8) Wales 81.46

7(6) England 80.72

8(7) Argentina 79.42

9(9) Scotland 77.72

10(10) Fiji 75.69

11(11) Samoa 73.47

12(12) Italy 71.23

13(13) Japan 70.59

14(14) Canada 67.85

15(15) Tonga 67.53

16(16) Russia 67.17

17(17) USA 67.05

18(18) Georgia 66.85

19(19) Romania 64.85

20(20) Uruguay 60.89

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