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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Maggie Alphonsi’s real rugby world rankings: All Blacks have slumped and England have work to do

It is always difficult to know what to take from the Autumn Internationals because comparing northern hemisphere teams with their counterparts from the south is not an exact science.

Touring teams are normally quite weary at the end of their season and, this year, they had been between Covid bubbles for months. A couple of injuries can completely derail a line-up when the pandemic has made it more difficult to draft in players, anyway.

I felt particularly sorry for Australia, who lost two tightheads while going down to Scotland and then had to play James Slipper in that position at Twickenham. In that game, Michael Hooper hurt himself and could not face Wales. Things can change so quickly. One thing for sure is that the Six Nations is going to be absolutely box-office.

November usually brings the introduction of fresh faces and this year was no different. Freddie Steward and Marcus Smith were at the forefront of England’s success, with Jamie Blamire also impressive. Rufus McLean is an exciting runner for Scotland. Caelan Doris, who is fulfilling his potential, was superb for Ireland. Andy Farrell will have been pleased by Joey Carbery steering the ship against Argentina in the absence of Jonny Sexton as well.

With less than two years until the next World Cup, teams are obviously stepping up in their planning for the tournament. The top 10 of World Rugby’s rankings is very close, and it feels as though at least eight teams on that list could beat each other on any given day. Here is my own top 10 after watching a fascinating autumn campaign.

Alphonsi’s real rugby world rankings

10. Argentina

Their 37-16 win over Italy, as well as a summer victory against Wales, keeps the Pumas in the top 10 – just – at the expense of Japan, who struggled to replicate their exploits of 2019 with much less time to prepare.

9. Fiji

Maybe this pick is based on potential and entertainment value. Their attacking play against Wales, despite being down to 14 men for most of the game, is definitely at the front of my mind. Fiji drew 15-15 against Georgia the following week, yet certainly have the talent to reach the knockout stages of the next World Cup.

8. Australia

A strange, up and down year for the Wallabies started with three losses to New Zealand before they bounced back by beating South Africa and Argentina twice each. Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete are obviously so important to Dave Rennie, because his team was not the same without those three influential backs.

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