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Two matches key to ranking predictions

Sep 8, 2011 3:31:30 PM - www.ft.lk

AUCKLAND, 8 Sept. : With the top 20 nations in the IRB World Rankings all participating in Rugby World Cup 2011, there is the potential for a lot of movement and potential new highs and lows over the next seven weeks in New Zealand. 

RWC 2011 kicks off on Friday with hosts New Zealand, who have occupied top spot for more time than any other nation since the rankings were introduced in October 2003, taking on Tonga in Pool A at Eden Park in Auckland. 
New Zealand have twice met Tonga in RWC history, the All Blacks running out 91-7 winners in Brisbane in 2003, the most recent meeting between the sides. The All Blacks are favourites to make it four from four against Tonga, a result which will have no impact on either side’s rating. 
This is because there are currently 11 places and 18.07 points between New Zealand and Tonga in the rankings. It will take one of the biggest shocks in RWC history and a Tongan victory for either side’s position to alter. 
Four of the eight matches over the opening weekend of RWC 2011 also involve sides separated by nine or more places in the rankings and, as a result, if the higher-placed side live up to their billing there will be no changes to ratings. 
Tri Nations champions Australia, now only 1.71 rating points behind New Zealand after back-to-back losses for the All Blacks last month, will remain second with victory over Italy in their Pool C encounter at North Harbour Stadium, barring a Tongan victory. 
France, Scotland and Ireland also cannot improve their ratings with victories over Japan, Romania and USA respectively, but even a winning start to RWC 2011 may not be enough for them to retain their positions of fourth, seventh and eighth respectively. 
This is because the encounters between England and Argentina in Pool B and Wales and defending champions South Africa in Pool D have the potential to spark multiple changes between the positions of three and nine.
South Africa currently occupy third spot, but could drop to sixth – equalling their lowest-ever position – with a defeat at Wellington Regional Stadium on Sunday, regardless of the margin if England and France taste victory. 
Wales would rise only one place in this instance, with a victorious England taking over third place from the Springboks, climbing two places to become the leading northern hemisphere nation, a mantle currently held by France. 
It will take a victory by more than 15 points to bring Wales a bigger reward, an outcome which would elevate Warren Gatland’s charges to a new high of third, regardless of the margin of an England victory over Argentina at Otago Stadium in Dunedin. 
If South Africa get their defence of the Webb Ellis Cup off to a winning start then they will reduce the deficit to Australia above them by at least a rating point, with Wales remaining sixth, unless Argentina also defeat England. 
Victory for Los Pumas, who have slipped down the rankings to ninth since their heroics of RWC 2007, would certainly lift them above Scotland and Ireland, but could also see them rocket as high as fourth depending on other results. 
If the matches go according to positions in the IRB World Rankings there will be just one positional change, with England climbing above France with victory over Argentina. Fiji will also improve their rating by beating Namibia, but only slightly to remain 15th. 
Should the form book be thrown out the window then changes will happen aplenty.