Across the planet rugby is fast catching up with football in terms of sheer popularity.
In some countries supporting your team is almost as important as religion. From the South of France, to the Welsh Valleys, the hot streets of Argentina to the glens of Scotland, rugby fans are passionate about the game. With last year’s Rugby World Cup and a number of other notable tournaments taking place during the last 12 months, these folks have had a lot of watching to do as their teams have thrilled and dismayed, won and lost. Here, we’re taking a look at some of rugby’s most recent, and most dramatic, winners and losers.
At time of writing (and likely for the foreseeable future) New Zealand are, of course, at the top of the world rugby rankings, beating England, Ireland and France to the coveted spot. The All Blacks have fought hard to get here and winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup was the ultimate accolade to the determination and grit of a country only 4.5 million strong. The team also swooped in and stole the trophy at the 2011 Rugby World Cup from a beleaguered France. In 2015, the opponents were fellow antipodeans Australia and the tense match was played at Twickenham Stadium, as the rugby community looked on with bated breath.
Japan is certainly not a country synonymous with rugby prowess. In fact, until last year’s Rugby World Cup, the country had had only one victory in its entire history of the tournament, and that was way back in 1991. However, the team astounded rugby fans around the world when they were pitted against two-time winners and serious contenders South Africa in the opening pools, and won. It was a classic case of the sporting underdog overcoming the odds – a match nobody will be quick to forget, in either country.
England’s rugby pitch experiences have been a real mixed bag over recent years. To the huge disappoint of fans and players alike, despite having the home advantage at the Rugby World Cup 2015, the boys in red and white were out at group stages. Despite this abysmal performance, England still sit at number two in the world rankings. How? The team retained its status because it had achieved a grand slam (beating every other team in the tournament) at the Six Nations, earlier in the year.
Ireland currently occupy the fourth position in rugby world rankings, which is no bad place to be. However, during the Six Nations 2015 they risked dropping to below eighth place, bad news for a team that has won the tournament outright some 13 times.
The next Rugby World Cup will take place three years from now in 2019 in Japan, meaning there’s ample time for fortunes to shift, teams to get stronger and rankings to alter. Whether the home team will once again rise to unexpected glory, the current leaders New Zealand will retain their crown, or one of the mid-ranking teams will raises their game for victory, remains to be seen. One thing however is certain, it will be an unpredictable and exhilarating tournament for all involved.