This is a list of the current top ten rugby teams as decided by the IRB (International Rugby Board) as of February 2nd, 2009. I have kept their list the same but I have added some facts and history on each team. I have also included some videos that I have found on YouTube showing the teams in play. [JFrater: when you see item one you will understand why this list had to be posted!]
Fiji’s national rugby team is a part of the Pacific Islands rugby Alliance along with Samoa and Tonga. Fiji was one of the sixteen teams to participate in the 1987 rugby world cup and made it to the quarter finals only to be beaten by France. Between 1987 and 2007, Fiji has only made it to the quarter finals twice, losing to England in the quarter finals in 1999 and losing to South Africa in the semi-finals in 2007. Fiji has an outstanding Rugby Sevens team and they play their fifteens very similar, with lots of exiting running rugby.
The Scottish Rugby Union was founded in 1873 and is one of the oldest teams in the world. They were a founding member of the IRB and participated in the first international match against England where Scotland won 4-1. Scotland participates and is a contender in the Six Nations tournament held every year in Europe. Scottish rugby players are also selected every four years to play for the Barbarians against other national teams. Scotland has taken part in all the Rugby World Cups which they have made the quarter or semi-finals every year except 2007.
The Irish Rugby Football Union was founded in 1874 and was another founding member or the IRB. Ireland competes annually in the Six Nations tournament which they have won eight times. They have participated in every world cup and have been eliminated in the quarter finals every year except 1999 and 2007. The Ireland national team forms a quarter of the British and Irish Lions along with England and Wales every four years. The Irish rugby team has been home to some of the world’s top class players including Brian O’Driscoll who is Irelands top try scorer and considered the best centre in world rugby.
Rugby was first introduced to France in 1872 by the British and since then has become a very competitive and popular sport. France is home to one of the top rugby leagues in the world and sees players coming from all over the world to play for one of their teams. France’s national team is considered the best on continental Europe and competes annually in the Six Nations tournament. The French have competed in every world cup and have made it to more finals than any other team without winning the William Webb Ellis Cup. One of France’s most famous games was against New Zealand in the 1999 world cup where they upset the favored All Blacks in the semi-final. France plays with a free flowing flair that is rivaled by only a few teams in the rugby world and one of the best things about them is that they are always able to produce an upset.
Though facing a few difficulties in the last year, The England National rugby team has always been considered one of the best sides in the world. They have produced many legends of the game such as Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson who is the top point scorer in rugby world cup history. They are the only team from Europe to win the Rugby World Cup when they defeated Australia in 2003 and also came as runners up in 1991 and 2007. They participate annually in the Six Nations tournament and have been crowned champions 25 times. Their style of play can often be characterized by using their strong forwards and running with backs utilizing kicks and open field play, if that doesn’t work, they will kick for points every chance they get.
The Wales National Rugby team was started in 1881 and that same year they had their first test match against England. Wales has had many different golden ages of rugby through the 19th and 20th centuries. During these times they have produced who some consider the best rugby players to ever play the game including J.P.R Williams, Gerald Davies, and of course Gareth Edwards. Wales competes in the Six Nations tournament every year and has won it 24 times (only second to England) with the most recent in 2008. Wales has been active in all six rugby world cups but unfortunately their best result was in 1987 when they reached the semi-finals but lost to New Zealand. Wales currently is improving rapidly and their play has always been recognized with some of the best sidestepping in the game. Just watch the video and see.
The Argentina National rugby team, nicknamed Los Pumas, had its first international test against a touring British Isles team in 1910. Argentina is ranked as by far the best team in the Americas and although rugby isn’t close to as popular as soccer, it has grown a following due to Argentina’s success in the Rugby World Cups. The only problem is that being on the other side of the world of the other major rugby teams; Argentina does not always get the highly publicized matches it deserves. Argentina has participated in all the Rugby World Cups but was left disappointed until a much more experienced side made it to the 1999 quarter finals. In 2007 a very strong and experienced Pumas side made it to semi finals after producing a handful of upsets. They went on to win 3rd place in the tournament which has let many of their players receive overseas contracts to play professional rugby in Europe. Argentina has generally used an outstanding forward pack mixed in with a barrage of backline passing.
The Australian Rugby Union team is nicknamed the Wallabies and is considered one of the best teams in the history of the game. They compete annually in the Tri-Nations Tournament against New Zealand and South Africa. Australia was one of the founders of the Rugby World Cup and shared the first tournament with New Zealand in 1987. The New South Wales Rugby Union became the first team to tour overseas by playing New Zealand in 1883. Australia was later toured by a British Isles team for the first time in 1888. In the century that followed, rugby grew very fast in Australia with the national team touring across Europe on a yearly base. In 1984 the Wallabies became the first Australian team to achieve a grand slam by defeating all the large European teams in one tour. Australia has participated in all six world cups and has the best record of all the participating nations. The Wallabies are one of two teams to win the tournament twice by winning in 1991 and 1999, and they came in as runners up in 2003. In 1995 Australia along with New Zealand and South Africa formed the first professional rugby union known as the Super Ten Competition. The Wallabies have produced a large number of outstanding rugby players including Tim Horan, David Campese, John Eales, and the most capped player of all time, George Gregan. The Wallabies are always entertaining to watch because they take risks in games that other teams wouldn’t event attempt. They are usually acknowledged as having one of the best defenses in world rugby and have great ball retention which allows continuous phases.
The South Africa national team is nicknamed the Springboks and began playing international rugby when a British Isles team toured South Africa in 1891. In the early 20th century rugby grew so rapidly in South Africa that a cease fire was held in the Second Boer War so that the British and Boer forces could play each other. South Africa took their first tour of the British Isles and France in 1906. Although still being involved in international test matches, the Apartheid Laws saw the South Africa Rugby Union highly criticized by other teams which led to the Springboks being unable to participate in the first two Rugby World Cups although their vote won the debate on whether or not to have the tournament. This changed in 1995 when South Africa was included and hosted the third Rugby World cup and defeated the New Zealand All blacks 15 to 12 in the final. The Springboks would only go on to the semi-finals in 1999 and the quarter finals in 2003 until they defeated England in 2007 to become the second nation to win the world cup twice. The success of the 1995 tournament in South Africa influenced the rugby laws to be changed to allow professional rugby teams to emerge. South Africa plays annually in the Super Twelve tournament and the Tri-Nations against New Zealand and Australia. South Africa is one of many teams to utilize all aspects of the game to produce exiting matches incorporating running, kicking, passing, and forward drives.
The New Zealand National Rugby Team, nicknamed the All Blacks is the most famous and respected team in the world with winning records against all national sides. The first team from New Zealand to compete in a match was against New South Wales in 1883 and their first international test was against Australia in 1903. Rugby has since then become New Zealand’s national sport with the All Blacks conquering just about every team in their way. They have a record of 330 wins out of 443 matches which makes them the most successful team in rugby history; the IRB has also named them team of the year in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Out of the Southern nations, the All Blacks retain the top Tri-Nations record with nine series wins while the Springboks and the Wallabies only have two. The All Blacks have also been able to retain the Bledisloe Cup from Australia for many years at a time. In addition, the All Blacks have only lost one test series to the British and Irish Lions and have won more Grand Slam tours of Europe than any other Southern Hemisphere team. The All Blacks hosted the first Rugby World Cup along with Australia and David Kirk would be the first to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy as the All Blacks easily defeated all the opposition including France in the final with the score of 29 to 9. The All Blacks have brought about many rugby legends to the field including Sean Fitzpatrick, John Kirwan, Grant Fox, Ian Kirkpatrick, Christian Cullen, Andrew Mehrtens, Tana Umaga, Carlos Spencer, Richie McCaw and of course Jonah Lomu. With the great players and talent that New Zealand has, the only question asked is why they have only won the Rugby World Cup once because they have gone into every tournament as the favorites to win. The New Zealand All Blacks have also gained fame from doing the Haka or the Kapo-o-Panga before every match.