The current rugby world rankings have been labelled a ‘joke’ by New Zealand media following the elevation of Australia above Ireland for third place in the latest listings.
Michael Cheika’s side has endured a barrage of criticism over the last twelve months as the normally mighty Wallabies have failed to meet the lofty expectations of a rugby community used to seeing them competing at the very top level.
Tony Smith of Stuff laments on Tuesday that there must be something seriously wrong with the rankings if New Zealand’s neighbours deserve to leap frog Ireland for third spot, behind England and the All Blacks.
Smith contends that for Australia to now rank two places higher than South Africa, who they played to a stale mate twice during the recent Rugby Championships, is something of a joke.
It was by virtue of two maulings on Argentina that lifted Cheika’s side above the resurgent Springboks.
With Ireland having not played at full-strength since the Six Nations back in March and with their last Test coming over the summer, Smith wonders why World Rugby insist on updating the rankings so often.
It’s easy for a New Zealand journalist to put the boot into their fiercest rivals. You would expect if the positions were reversed, Australia’s media would salivate at the chance to slate New Zealand. Such is the nature of competitive neighbours.
But has Smith touched on a good point here? Are the rankings being updated too regularly and does it paint a fair reflection of actual form?
The fact of the matter is that either side of the equator presents distinctly separate rugby calendars. As the northern hemisphere nations and leagues wind down in the summer, things are only ramping up down south.
Until these calendars are aligned, as is the aspiration of World Rugby, the ranking tables will continually skew in favour of the active hemisphere.
Making the list revision an annual affair, as suggested by Smith, will only replace one flaw with another. With nations playing in the region of ten Tests each year, an annual update would ensure that the rankings would quickly become outdated until they were revised again.
So what is the solution? Sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.
Everyone knows the rankings don’t always reflect the real pecking order. In truth, it only starts to matter every four years when it comes to World Cup pool selections. Thereafter, the list merely provides friendly neighbours with bragging rights.
Ultimately, you are only as good as your last Test series or tournament. Ranking the ebb and flow of form provides a nice metric but where it really matters, where a gauge of form is most accurate, is on the field, with one side putting another to the sword.
This is how players and coaches see it, as it should be.