by Rugby4Cast / 17th January 2019


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Ireland can take the number one spot by the end of the Six Nations, but require certain results to go their way. We’ve explored a few of the ways they can do it below…

What’s going on?

In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s some context. New Zealand have been world number 1 forever. Since late 2009 they have occupied the top spot in World Rugby, usually by a considerable margin. Since inception they held the number one position for over 85% of the time, as this delightful graphic to the right (credit Wikipedia) shows.
Over the years several teams have made an attempt at toppling them, but recently the Irish have emerged as the side most likely to do it. And, if certain results come to pass in this Six Nations, they can do it. They would become the first Northern Hemisphere side to sit atop the rankings since England in 2004, just after Eamon and Frankee had their very public and musical breakup, during which time over 4,000 international matches have been played.

How is it calculated?

Team ranking is calculated using an exchange system (a zero sum game for those in the know), in which sides receive points from each other based on the match result. In short – whatever one side gains, the other loses.
The exchanges are based on the match result, the rankings of each team before the match and with an allowance for home advantage.
There is more detail in our post explaining rankings here, including a few examples. However, the crux of it is this: a range of up to 3 points can be exchanged in a match, the exact amount depending on the rankings of the two sides before the match and the final score.

Get to it man! What do Ireland need?

I’m getting there! Calm down.
Ireland play 5 matches, but only 3 of them are important for ranking purposes.
England, Scotland and Wales. Potentially Ireland’s most important triple crown ever.
The other two matches will make no difference to Ireland’s ranking – if they win. This is because France and Italy are too far behind Ireland in ranking points for Ireland to gain anything from victory.
If Ireland beat England they will gain 0.2 points. If they then beat Scotland they will gain a further 0.35 points. And if they beat Wales away from home they will gain 0.85 ranking points, potentially taking them above New Zealand for the first time ever.
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Only potentially?

Yes. I’m afraid this is still dependent on other results going Ireland’s way. There are many permutations that could still lead to Ireland not gaining the required points. The problem Ireland are most likely to have (assuming they win all their games, of course…) is with Wales.
Ireland gain the most points from their match with Wales, due to the high ranking that Wales have, and the fact that it is played away in Cardiff. Wales are clearly important, therefore, in the Irish bid to overtake the All Blacks.
However, if Wales have lost to either Scotland or England earlier in the Championship, they will have a lower ranking going into the Ireland game. Under these circumstances, this would mean that Wales wouldn’t have enough points for Ireland to ‘take’ from them to overtake New Zealand. It really is that tight.

So what’s going to happen?

Well the rankings are a complicated beast, and even in a tournament with only 15 games like the Six Nations, hundreds of different World Ranking permutations will arise, so it’s very hard to say what will happen.
However, we are reasonably certain that the most likely route for Ireland to take the top spot from New Zealand requires a Grand Slam AND some other results going their way. Those other results are most likely to be regarding Wales.
Understand? If you don’t that’s okay. We’ll be following these scenarios closely as the Six Nations progresses and will keep you up to date. If you have a particular interest in following rankings permutations, specifically Irish rankings, then give us a follow to see the updates.
If you spot any other ranking permutations that we may have missed, please give a shout and we’ll update the article. This is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities! Just a few of the ones we thought were most likely to lead to Ireland taking the top spot.

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