After one of the best sets of autumn internationals ever, Pundit Arena takes stock and ranks the top ten rugby nations from the whole of 2016.
Some big names are near the bottom, but how high up are the resurgent Ireland and Scotland? Does England’s perfect year knock the All Blacks off top spot?
But for a home victory against South Africa, Italy wouldn’t have made the top ten of rugby nations in 2016. And as if to highlight how much work Conor O’Shea needs to do to make the Azurri competitive during the Six Nations, they followed up their historic triumph over the Boks with defeat to Tonga.
9. South Africa
A wretched year for the Springboks. They tasted defeat no fewer than eight times and were winless on their four-game tour of Europe.
Les Bleus showed signs in their final international – against New Zealand – that they might be a force under Guy Noves next year. But it was only one game. Throughout 2016 France remained the pushovers they have largely been since the 2011 World Cup.
The Pumas ought to be far higher up this list. At times throughout the Rugby Championship, their form would have taken them to No. 4. But they faded badly in the autumn, as the relentless pressure of playing top level rugby since August with limited squad depth took its toll. Ambiental factors such as distance don’t help the Puma cause.
They have also taken the bold step of only selecting southern hemisphere-based players, ruling out world-class pair Marcos Ayerza of Leicester Tigers and Racing 92’s Juan Imhoff. If the policy works, and the Jaguares improve in Super Rugby, the Pumas’ future could be bright.
There’s not much to choose between Wales and fifth-placed Scotland. Their autumn record reads won three, lost one, but they were poor against Argentina, dreadful versus Japan and embarrassing against Australia.
At least they finished the year on a high with a much-improved performance against South Africa. But then again, the Boks only come in at No. 9 in this list.
Scotland are stronger than they have been at any this Millennium. Vern Cotter has improved them markedly and has provided a great platform for Gregor Townsend – one of the coaches of his generation – to profit from next season.
What do with think Scottish friends?
— Will Kelleher (@willgkelleher) August 17, 2016
Whitewashed by a hugely-impressive England in June, Australia were runners-up in the Rugby Championship, and gave New Zealand a tough match in the final Bledisloe Cup game.
Their narrow defeat in Dublin prevented them from getting onto the podium.
It was a historic year for Ireland, as they beat New Zealand for the first time and secured a maiden win in South Africa. Victory against Australia in November gave them a rare hat-trick of southern hemisphere scalps.
Defeats in the Six Nations and summer tour prevent them being even higher up this list.
Great end to the season for Ireland ??rugby. What is their world ranking now? They must be in the top 3. Rory Best has become a true leader.
— Steven McDonnell (@Killeavy13) November 26, 2016
Grand slam winners for the first time since 2003, historic whitewashers of Australia, and an autumn campaign that reads: played four, won four.
England were missing countless players in November and December and still more than delivered. The worrying thing for everyone else is that they are still making plenty of mistakes. This team is going to provide New Zealand’s biggest test for a decade.
1. New Zealand
A blip in Chicago aside, the All Blacks were imperious in 2016. They waltzed to the Rugby Championship title playing some of the best rugby we have ever witnessed. And all this after losing Richie McCaw and the entire midfield to retirement.
The Kiwi class of 2016 are the greatest team ever.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena
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