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FEATURE How every nation ranks after the Rugby World Cup

How every nation ranks after the Rugby World Cup
7 months ago

In April, RugbyPass ranked every team at the World Cup and where they sat relative to their own pre-tournament expectations. Now, we can reassess and re-rank each nation according to their performances in France, and how confident they should feel as they look to the future.

Who lived up to their potential and who underdelivered? Who will have strode on to the plane home with a spring in their step, and who left France feeling they have lost ground?


France A (previous rank: A-)

Admittedly, a quarter-final loss is well below expectations. Having said that, they were still one of the best teams in the tournament despite a glut of injuries which removed Romain Ntamack, and Paul Willemse entirely and meant Antoine Dupont, Cyril Baille, Jonathan Danty and Julien Marchand missed matches. The replacements stepped up and the entire team are in a better spot, even if selection just got a whole lot harder.

Needless to say, however, the scars of that loss to South Africa at a home World Cup they’d built so clearly towards, will take time to heal.

Portugal A (previous rank: B)

Portugal made the most of their eventful journey to the World Cup, which included Spain fielding an ineligible player and a last-minute draw against USA. RugbyPass predicted they could escape this tournament with a win against Georgia. Portugal drew that thriller as both teams missed last-gasp kicks at goal, but did snatch a stunning victory over Fiji in one of the games of the tournament.

Mike Tadjer
Portugal’s Mike Tadjer was overwhelmed at full-time having secured Os Lobos’ first ever World Cup win against Fiji in his final international (Photo by Julian Finney/ Getty Images)

Portugal have shown the way to grow, playing plenty of matches against teams you have a chance of beating. Between the end of the 2019 World Cup and start of this one, they played 28 times, just 12 fewer than Tier One side Scotland. That constant access to tight matches and a raft of players in the ProD2 has helped them far more than one-sided losses against international heavyweights.

England B+ (previous rank: C)

England received an unreasonable volume of flak, starting with the draw and finishing with their perceived boring style. They went about their business though, winning their group without much concern, then beating Fiji in a game the rest of the world wanted them to lose. Their semi-final loss to South Africa showed they were far from happy merely to make a semi-final.

The issue, though, is the loss of Courtney Lawes, who has announced his retirement. Lawes has been a constant, and exceptional, player throughout England’s recent travails. He leaves an enormous hole which looks unfillable in the short term.

Ireland B (previous rank: A+)

Another quarter-final, another loss. This one will hurt the most. Ireland had done so much of the hard work escaping from a bruising pool. How do they differ from France, who left at the same point and are ranked much higher in this piece?

Well, France have inadvertently used this tournament to build for the future. Ireland have not and now the future is here. Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls have played their last matches for Ireland. Earls hadn’t featured that much but Sexton has been integral and he can’t be replaced. Soon enough Bundee Aki, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, and Dave Kilcoyne will join them in retirement. That’s a vast quantity of talent to replace.

Wales B- (previous rank: D)

An opening victory against Fiji seemed to settle Welsh nerves and a complete domination of Australia got fans believing. They were uninspiring, but did enough against Georgia and Portugal to escape the group unbeaten. Then they just had to see their way past a misfiring Argentina in the quarter-finals. After 20 minutes, Welsh fans should’ve been looking for cheap tickets to the semis. But they were dire in the last hour and fell away.

Dan Biggar has hung up his boots and there’s no ready-made replacement. While there’s plenty of talent across the squad, it’s hard to know where the players of the future will be found as the domestic game is in a terrible spot.

Georgia C (previous rank: A+)

This was a great chance for Georgia to play in a knockout game as they found themselves in a pretty weak group. The talk was that they had finally added some exciting backs to their hulking forwards. When the games started though it looked like they’d lost that dominant set-piece in exchange for a slight improvement in the backs. The result? No victories and a draw against Portugal.

They were excellent in a narrow loss against Fiji and there are signs they may improve, but there was no progress to be seen this World Cup.

Scotland C- (previous rank: B-)

Yes, Scotland were unlucky to have faced both South Africa and Ireland in their group. However, they lost those games by a combined 54-17 and had scored just three points in 143 minutes before a late surge against a disinterested Ireland. Their attack is often considered one of the best in the world, but it was totally absent when they needed it most.

Finn Russell
Scotland were swept aside by pool favourites South Africa and Ireland (Photo by Julian Finney/ Getty Images)

The question will be whether this will be a catalyst for them to lurch into the top four or whether they are destined to battle the best of the rest for the foreseeable future.

Romania D (previous rank: D-)

Romania didn’t score a try for 267 minutes and didn’t score a point against either Scotland or South Africa. Against the Springboks they conceded four tries in 11 minutes and could/should have shipped 100 were it not for the champions drastically taking their foot off the accelerator.

Full-back Marius Simionescu and half-back Alin Conache are extremely talented and could well form the backbone of the new Romania, but this team are lightyears away from where they were a decade or so ago.

Italy E+ (previous rank: C-)

They started well with a convincing victory against Namibia and then were excellent in the second half against Uruguay to ensure they didn’t succumb to an upset. But once they’d got over that hurdle they just gave up.

Their 96-17 loss against New Zealand was arguably the most humiliating experience for a Tier One side ever. They were truly dreadful and it seems impossible to believe there was talk about whether this could be an upset. They conceded 60 points the next week against France to cap off a terrible World Cup.

There is understandably a lot of desire to have a good Italian side, but often that desire clouds the reality: this is not a very good Italian side.


Japan C (previous rank: C-)

Japan went into this World Cup with low expectations and, on balance, just about cleared them. They were very good against Chile and excellent for 40 minutes against England, although hugely wasteful. Victory against Samoa gave them a final round shootout against Argentina. They fell just short in a fantastic match.

A clutch of Japanese totems may never play in another World Cup match, including legendary back-row Michael Leitch (Photo by PA)

This is the end of the fairytale Japan side. Michael Leitch, Shota Horie, Lappies Labuschagne, Ryohei Yamanaka, and Lomano Lemeki almost certainly won’t feature in another World Cup. What lies beneath that raft of talent will determine whether we will see another great Brave Blossoms team emerge.


South Africa A+ (previous rank: B-)

South Africa were inconsistent between their 2019 victory and the start of this World Cup. They’d lost to Ireland and France and, incredibly, Wales. They began the competition with a totally dominant victory over Scotland but a loss to Ireland suggested they would struggle to make it all the way through the knockout stages. But at every round they found something extra.

Their victory over France was possibly the greatest match in World Cup history. Their semi-final edging of England was by a smaller margin than expected but they showed a different way of winning. Then that final, one for the ages, where they overcame all kinds of adversity to win. The great news is it seemingly doesn’t matter who is in the squad, they somehow become more than the sum of their parts.

Namibia D (previous rank: C+)

Namibia face very little competition between World Cups then provide very little competition at the World Cup. This year, their full focus should have been on their match against Uruguay, a great chance to grab a win. Unfortunately, poor discipline was their enemy as they gave up three cards, two yellow and one red. As predicted, they presented no real challenge to Italy, New Zealand or France.

Hopefully without covid-19 to contend with, they will have a greater slate of competitive matches before 2027.

South America

Argentina B- (previous rank: C+)

Argentina were awful for big chunks of the tournament. They failed to do anything against England in a game where they were favourites, and played against 14 men for almost the entire match. They narrowly squeezed by Samoa and Japan. Their World Cup was made by the quarter-final victory against Wales. In that game they showed a lot of what we had hoped to see, but that all disappeared a week later when they were eviscerated by New Zealand in the single poor game of the eight knockout fixtures.

Despite a wonderful Santiago Carreras try, Argentina fell short in the third-place play-off (Photo by PA)

What’s next though? Argentina are capable of much more, but will we ever see a consistent set of performances?

Uruguay B (previous rank: B+)

It would’ve been very tough for Uruguay to have topped their feats of 2019. In reality, they showed good growth by beating Namibia and pushing France and Italy close for portions of those games. The massive question is whether they can move towards the likes of Fiji or Georgia, teams who can occasionally bridge the void to the Tier One nations. The best way to do that is to keep beating Tier Two rivals.

Chile B (previous rank: A-)

Chile weren’t really competitive, but to have expected that would’ve been too much. This was their first go and they did significantly better than Romania or Namibia.

The next four years will be huge. Chile could be a one and done World Cup country or they may be able to find another level and grow. They have talent but they are geographically isolated and it will be hard to give their players constant access to high-level matches.


New Zealand A (previous rank: B-)

As notice periods go, this was a pretty good one for Ian Foster. They were outclassed by France in the opening match but then waltzed through the rest of the group, including that drubbing of Italy. They were spectacular against Ireland in an unforgettable match and then barely broke a sweat against Argentina in the semi-final.

In the showpiece, indiscipline cost them. In reality, it had cost them at various points recently, including in their pre-World Cup destruction at the hands of South Africa. They will end perhaps surprised they got this far, but disappointed they couldn’t go all the way.

Fiji B (previous rank: C-)

Fiji were excellent against both Wales and Australia and pushed England to the wire in the quarter-final. However, for the second tournament running, they lost to the lowest ranked team in their pool. They are frustratingly inconsistent and it’s hard to argue they are more than the sum of their parts.

Hopefully this is the start of something different though. The victory against Australia was massive and the confidence it engenders should push them to expect more Tier One success.

Samoa C+ (previous rank: A)

Ah, it could’ve been so different. They lost to England by a single point and to Argentina by nine. But they also lost to Japan and left France with just a single victory, over Chile. They have huge talent right the way through their team but it’s also ageing. Lima Sopoaga, Steven Luatua, Seilala Lam, Charlie Faumuina, Michael Ala’alatoa, and Christian Leali’ifano have probably played in their last World Cup. This might have been the golden generation and it’s a shame they had so little time to play together.

Tonga C (previous rank: C)

Tonga did roughly what was expected of them. They beat Romania, in a very good game, and failed to really stress any of South Africa, Ireland, or Scotland. They will finish the year having beaten Australia A, Canada, and Romania. They lost to Fiji, Japan, and Samoa however and are fairly well entrenched as the poorest of that quartet. They have some exceptional talent but are lacking in key positions. Their first post-World Cup target should be to be more competitive with the other Pacific Island nations, and Japan.

Australia F (previous rank: D+)

Eddie Jones has completed his evolution from the coach people love to hate to the coach people just hate. He has now resigned and looks set to jump ship to Japan. That makes the entire World Cup look almost like a cynical ploy to tank his future opponents.

Australia v Portugal - Rugby World Cup France 2023
Eddie Jones resigned after a horrendous – and controversial – stint as Wallabies head coach (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

He took an incredibly inexperienced team to France and put some future talents in confidence-destroying positions. They finish the tournament with victories over just Portugal and Georgia and were humiliated by Wales. Whoever takes over has an enormous job to do.


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Liberal 228 days ago

SA was banned from the first 2 RWCs in 1987&1991. The very first one we played in in 1995 we won. From there on we proceeded to win a record 4th WC title now. So SA proved that the first two WCs were illegitimate and bear no value or ligitimacy when they were banned, think about that!!!!!!!!!!
So the stats since SA participated from 1995 onwards should read SA-4, NZ-2, Aus-1, Eng=1.

Jon 228 days ago

IMHO the best teams in the world cup are those that they can deal w adversity
RSA - loses starting hooker, loses starting outside centre right at the start of the tournament, loses 2nd hooker for all of the final
NZ - plays 1 man down for 30 of the 80 min in the final
FRA - loses starting flyhalf and hooker and captain suffers a broken face / still plays in QF
ENG - loses ability to score outside of kicks, wins bronze medal

Bob Marler 231 days ago

This is such a weird article.

Johan 232 days ago

South Africa had the toughest draw, hence they performed above and beyond. But top 5 teams in 2 draws r insane. RWC must fix the draw system, it's insane. Would've loved to see Ireland go beyond the quarters as a South African. We lost with 5 against them, after missing 11 kicks from goal when Manie Libbock struggled on the day. But still Ireland deserved to continue further for sure.

Johan 232 days ago

Wow Wales downgraded from a B- to a D. And Gatlin still runs his mouth about the referees in the RWC, shameful to say the least. Arguably the worst coach in Wales rugby history, get rid of the excess baggage for your own sake Wales ffs!!!!!!!!

Paul 232 days ago

This ranking system is pointless. The grade is based on comparing each team to their previous ranking and whether or not they exceeded expectations, met or didn't.

Bob Marler 233 days ago

What is this bollocks? Don’t we just need to look at the world rankings?

Turlough 233 days ago

Incredible not to mention the draw in either the exit of France or Ireland. As a reminder, for the last 20 years the draw has been made 3 years before the tournament and the order of matches is decided by God knows who. (In 2015 it was NZ)
This time the draw meant that 3 out of the top 5 were in one pool, 2 out of the top 4 were in another and 2 top 4 teams could not make the semi. Utter ridiculous and ongoing for the 5th consecutive world cup.
The scheduling meant that Ireland once again had to play a top team a week before a quarterfinal.

If France had a reasonable quarter to iron out any remaining kinks its difficult to see how they could have been stopped. Likewise if Ireland had a quarter to get a first knock out win it is hard to see how say NZ could have overcome them especially as NZ would have had only one week to prepare for a semi against Ireland rather than 5 weeks for the quarter.

Ireland and France played reasonably well in the quarters and can point to the draw as giving them a disadvantage.

In fact the draw distorted both semi finals and distorted the final itself: a fatigued SA only path to victory against a relatively fresh NZ was an old style tight low scoring game. And arguably because it was NZ there (and not France or Ireland) SA prevailed.

SAs great victory was overcoming the draw. That needed a bit of luck after the Ireland loss and they got it the luck but showed massive grit to edge out the tight games. That’s the problem with dodgy draws. Too much coin flicks.

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