23 Sep 2015

Boks drop, Japan rise in world rankings

3:42 pm on 23 September 2015

Japan's shock upset win over South Africa at the Rugby World Cup has had a measurable impact on the balance of power in the game, with the Springboks plummeting to sixth in the world rankings.

Japan celebrates victory over the Springboks.

Japan celebrates victory over the Springboks. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The two-time World Cup holders, who usually inhabit one of the two slots immediately beneath New Zealand, have never been ranked so low since World Rugby introduced the ratings in 2003.

Japan's reward for last weekend's Brighton heroics was a jump from 13th to 11th, moving above Scotland - their opponents in their second Pool D clash in Gloucester on Thursday.

England's opening victory over Fiji means they move into the spot vacated by South Africa, behind Australia and the All Blacks, who recently celebrated a decade at the top of the rankings.

Wales and Ireland, who were recently ranked as high as second, have also leapfrogged the Springboks into fourth and fifth place respectively, after comfortable opening wins in their pools.

France, Argentina, Fiji and Samoa rounded out the top 10 ahead of Japan.

For the powerhouse nations that have long dominated rugby, the Boks' loss to Japan served as a salutary lesson about the dangers of complacency.

"Perhaps South Africa underestimated them. I don't know," said New Zealander John McKee, coach of the Fiji side who take on former world champions Australia on Friday.

"It shows that the gap between tier one and tier two is closing. It also shows what can be achieved if you stick to a game plan and play to your strengths."

Michael Cheika's team selection for Australia's Pool A opener in Cardiff reflected that philosophy, as he chose to play David Pocock and Michael Hooper, both openside flankers, in his back row.

France's Philippe Saint-Andre - one of several coaches wrestling with short turnarounds between matches - has rested all but two of the starting team from their 32-10 opening win over Italy for Thursday's Pool D match against Romania.

Wales coach Warren Gatland would dearly love to have such a luxury as he eyes a blockbuster encounter with England on Sunday, a game that could go some way to deciding which of the two countries will progress from Pool A.

In yet another injury setback for the Welsh, centre Cory Allen, who scored three tries but was one of six players hurt in the 54-9 win over Uruguay, was ruled out of the tournament by a hamstring injury.

Whether Scotland still belong in the game's top tier after a good few lean years is debatable, but the 1991 semi-finalists are facing the task of restoring the old order when they meet Japan in Gloucester on Wednesday.

Coach Vern Cotter has recalled fit-again fullback Stuart Hogg to his inexperienced side for their Pool B opener, and said Japan's victory would have little impact on how the Scots prepared for the game.

"They will have taken a lot of confidence from their opening win over South Africa. However, that doesn't change our approach to this game or the pool," he said.

"The priority for us is to ensure that we get our jobs right with accuracy and impose ourselves on the game."

Japan coach Eddie Jones made six changes to his side, from the team that wrote itself into the history of the game this past weekend.

"If the players can't get excited after Saturday I don't know what's going to excite them. Motivation is not an issue," the Australian said.

"It's interesting that before the tournament Scotland said we were going to tank the first game. So if we did tank the first game we've got a good performance coming up in our second."

A more palpable impact on the game from Japan's victory came when South Africa fell to sixth in the world rankings, their lowest ever position.

A sign of what it means for the game in Japan came when World Rugby's chief executive Brett Gosper Tweeted that the tournament's merchandise store in London had been forced to pull down its shutters early on Monday because of overwhelming demand from the Japanese public.

- Reuters