The third round of the 2023 Rugby World Cup produced the first truly epic clash – Ireland’s thrilling win over South Africa – and saw the first major side be shoved to the brink of elimination, as Australia suffered a chastening defeat by Wales.
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20. Romania (–)
Having not played this weekend, Romania have not yet had a chance to convince that they are not the worst side in the competition. Matches against Scotland and Tonga coming up are vital for them.
19. Namibia (–)
Should they be bottom? After that 96-0 obliteration by a roaring French side, perhaps. Either way, between Romania and the Welwitschias it is a shoot-out for bottom. Their showing against Uruguay on Wednesday will be telling.
18. Chile (–)
Los Cóndores remain in the same spot given their match against England went almost entirely as predicted. Genuine ambition and intent in the opening exchanges saved them from any chance of a drop.
17. Georgia (-1)
One of the most frustrating sides at the World Cup thus far. In defeat by the Wallabies, the Lelos barely fired a shot but, in the first half against Portugal, the opposite was true. Georgia looked organised and with cutting edge out wide. The issue was not converting their opportunities, allowing Portugal to pinch a draw.
16. Tonga (-1)
Harsh, perhaps, given the Pacific Islanders briefly took a first-half lead against Scotland, but the way in which Tonga crumbled in the second half is a concern. And the surprise package, Portugal, deserve reward for their Georgian efforts.
15. Portugal (+2)
Along with Uruguay – and meaning no disrespect – Portugal have flown the flag for the minnows at this tournament. Ruffling Welsh feathers, drawing with Georgia, what next? Imagine the scenes in Lisbon if Os Lobos could stick another knife into some wounded Wallabies.
14. Japan (–)
The Brave Blossoms stay where they were last week having not featured in this round of pool matches. They remain, of course, dark horses to progress from Pool D, given the struggles of both Argentina and Samoa on Friday (both of whom they still have to face).
13. Uruguay (–)
In the end, Uruguay could not quite sustain the first-half form that saw them head into the interval 10 points clear of Italy. The Azzurri, who still have their toughest opponents – France and New Zealand – to come, eventually overcame Uruguay, but Los Teros showed that they are not to be underestimated. And, in flanker Manuel Ardao, they might have the tournament’s breakout star.
12. Samoa (-1)
The less said about Samoa’s showing against Argentina last Friday the better. Los Pumas were not much better, mind you, but crucially found a way to win, where Samoa were found wanting. Seilala Mapusua’s side now must beat England and hope other results go their way to progress.
11. Australia (-1)
Fundamentally, it is tough to watch such a verdant rugby nation become so barren. Amid the jibes and head coach’s politicking, it is simply not good for the global game to have a malfunctioning Wallabies. Eddie Jones’s side were obliterated everywhere by Wales and will surely now become the first Australian side to not progress beyond the pool at a World Cup.
10. Argentina (+2)
Argentina are up two simply by dint of others’ misfortune. Los Pumas, even in victory against Samoa, continued to falter. Michael Cheika’s side emerged victorious, however, which is one of few positives to be taken. Argentina will now be favourites to set up a quarter-final showdown with Wales in Marseille; although, on this form, Japan could offer another twist in the Pool D tale.
9. Italy (-1)
Are the Azzurri a little hard done by? Perhaps, since they have played two, won two, with two bonus points. Once Italy have tested themselves against a so-called ‘tier-one’ nation, however – the All Blacks await this Friday – then we might have a better gauge of their current state. Certainly, the transformation at half-time in the Uruguay victory, suggested there is a team in there capable of mixing it at the top table – but consistency remains a worry.
8. Scotland (-2)
Moving Scotland down two is not really a slight on their performance per se, since, eventually, they comfortably overcame the Tongan challenge. But Wales’s victory over Australia and England’s unbeaten streak deserve some recognition – and Scotland were a little passive and clumsy at times in the first half of that Tongan defeat. Of course, for Gregor Townsend’s side, it is all immaterial. Assuming Scotland accrue all five points against Romania, all roads lead to Paris on October 7, for that do-or-die clash with Ireland. Win that, and they will be in the top four.
7. Wales (+2)
Everyone knew that Wales had the capacity to defeat a floundering Australian side deprived of its two most brutal forwards, but the manner of the victory in Lyon surely shocked even the most optimistic fans of Warren Gatland’s side. It was as close to a sporting massacre as is possible between two of the top sides in a particular sport. Wales, from minute one to 80, never looked like being defeated; not just that, Gatland’s charges never looked like coming second in any facet of the match.
6. England (+1)
There was a nervy, clunky opening 10 minutes for England but after the cobwebs were blown off – there were 12 changes to the starting XV, after all – Steve Borthwick’s side looked fluid and professional against a limited if spirited Chilean outfit (who showed signs that more matches against this calibre of nation would benefit them greatly). England now sit comfortably atop Pool D, with just one point dropped out of a maximum possible of 15. Not many would have called that pre-tournament and a semi-final now looks a real possibility.
5. Fiji (–)
Wales’s victory over Australia will have been bittersweet for a Fijian side who put their feet up last weekend. On the one hand, the Fijians now know that five points across their next two games – against Georgia and Portugal – would guarantee them a quarter-final regardless of Australia’s result against Portugal; on the other, Fiji are now unlikely to top the group. Still, they remain in fifth, with a probable quarter-final against England on the horizon.
4. New Zealand (-1)
Another side to have had their feet up last weekend, New Zealand drop down one place below France simply by dint of not having played. After a weekend of rejuvenation, however, a roaring victory over Italy on Friday would see them banging on the door of Les Bleus.
3. France (+1)
A record World Cup victory it might have been, but the opposition must be remembered. Scoring 96 points against Namibia sends France up one spot, into third, and they remain among the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on October 28. For that to transpire, however, their talismanic captain, Antoine Dupont, must return, with reports in France suggesting he could make a miraculous recovery for the quarter-final stage.
2. South Africa (–)
Phenomenal in defeat against Ireland, the Springboks are wounded – but not fatally. No side tipped to be World Cup victors ever wants to lose a match, but there is no shame in coming within five metres of defeating the world’s No 1 side in what could end up to be a meaningless pool match. Admittedly, the devastation on South African faces at full time showed the match was not meaningless to them, but they will be back, probably against France in the quarter-finals; for which the excitement is already building.
1. Ireland (–)
The easiest selection of the lot. Even if the victory against South Africa meant little in terms of pool standings and the draw – no one won or lost the World Cup on Saturday night in Paris – it was clear by the frightening physicality and sense of occasion that both sides were treating this as a World Cup final. And they delivered, with James Lowe, Bundee Aki and Caelan Doris utterly mindblowing.
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