Ireland and South Africa are the number one and two ranked sides in the world, while New Zealand are fourth.There are separate men’s and women’s rankings. The teams of World Rugby’s member nations are ranked based on their game results, with the most successful teams being ranked highest. A point system is used, with points being awarded on the basis of the results of World Rugby-recognized international matches. Rankings are based on the team’s performance, with more recent results and more significant matches being more heavily weighted to help reflect the current competitive state of a team. The men’s ranking system was introduced the month before the 2003 Rugby World Cup, with the first new rankings issued on 8 September 2003, when they were called the “IRB Rankings”.
When the system was introduced England were the top team and maintained that position following victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. New Zealand took the lead from 14 June 2004.
After winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, South Africa became the third team to achieve first place. The first two fixtures of the 2008 Tri Nations resulted in the top two teams switching places: the All Blacks regained the top spot after defeating South Africa in the Tri-Nations opener on 5 July 2008 in Wellington; a week later the Springboks returned the favour in Dunedin, scoring their first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand since 1998, reclaiming the top spot, only for the All Blacks to defeat both Australia and South Africa in August 2008 to regain the top spot by a considerable margin. South Africa regained the lead in July 2009 after beating New Zealand in Bloemfontein and kept the lead until losing to France in November of that year, allowing the All Blacks to regain the top spot.
A change at the top would not occur for a record period of 508 weeks (from 16 November 2009 to 19 August 2019), when Wales became the top ranked team for the first time after defeating England at Cardiff in a World Cup 2019 warm-up test in August, following on a streak in which they won 15 of 16 tests, including a Six Nations Grand Slam. Two weeks later New Zealand returned to the top of the summit following Ireland’s victory over Wales in Cardiff in a World Cup 2019 warm-up test. However, on 7 September 2019, Ireland defeated Wales again, this time in Dublin, and they were installed as the number 1 team for the first time in their history, which they held entering the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The first round of matches in the 2019 Rugby World Cup saw a further change at the top, with New Zealand’s pool stage victory over the Springboks seeing them regain the top spot. England’s defeat of New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals saw them return to the top spot for the first time since 2004. A week later, South Africa reclaimed top spot after defeating England in the final.
2021 saw the ranking lead change several times with South Africa and New Zealand each holding the top spot at various points. In 2022, France replaced South Africa on top of the rankings following their victory over Japan in their summer tour and the Springboks’ home defeat by a touring Wales team. A week later, Ireland claimed top spot following victory in their summer tour to New Zealand.
Since the rankings began, the winners of every edition of the World Cup have held the number 1 spot at the end of the tournament.
New Zealand have been the most consistently ranked #1 team since the introduction of the world rankings in 2003, having held the #1 ranking for most of the time during this period. South Africa is second, with England, Wales, Ireland and France making up the remainder.
To date, 2019 is the only calendar year in which more than three nations have held the number 1 spot – with five nations holding that title at some point during the year.