Rugby is usually considered, at least in Italy, a minor sport: widespread throughout the country, it was for a long time overshadowed by football but also by other sports such as basketball or volleyball, which in alternating phases have able to give us important satisfaction at an international level, either through the club teams or through the respective national teams.
International successes that have so far been lacking for rugby, relegating this noble sport for a long time to second or even third level positions in the Italian television and journalistic panorama.
Today things have partially changed. Also due to the many scandals that have affected the world of football, in fact, rugby has risen to the fore as an emblem of pure sport, in which strength and even physical impetuosity are combined with a high sense of loyalty and sportsmanship.
Driving this rediscovery of the sport created in England in 1823 was not, however, our national championship or the club cups, but the great national tournaments and in particular the Six Nations, which also involves Italy.
But which are the strongest national teams in the world? Taking advantage of the ranking of the international federation, we present the top five (even if there are actually six) of the ranking.
1. New Zealand
The All Blacks and Their Haka
The national team that is at the top of the world ranking, but which is also undoubtedly the strongest in the history of this sport, is that of New Zealand, the famous All Blacks.
Twice winners of the World Cup (and current holders, at least until this autumn, when the new edition will be held in Great Britain), ten of the Tri-Nations (the prestigious tournament that saw the strongest nationals of the southern hemisphere clash, today replaced by the Rugby Championship), the All Blacks are also the black beast of Italy.
In fact, our national team was defeated five times out of five by the New Zealanders in the World Cup. On the other hand, the All Blacks are for some the very synonym of the idea of rugby, with their bold and powerful style at the same time.
In addition to some of its players who have made the history of professional rugby in the last twenty years – the most representative are probably Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Daniel Carter, and Joe Rokocoko -, the oceanic national team is also famous for the haka.
This is a typical Maori dance that has been performed before every international match since the end of the nineteenth century, which strengthens the team’s bond with its traditions but also serves to intimidate the opponents.
2. South Africa
The Springboks were Also Celebrated by Clint Eastwood
Second in the world ranking is the South African national team, which has also won two editions of the World Cup (in 1995 and 2007), among other things playing fewer tournaments than the historical rivals of New Zealand since in the first editions it was in a boycott was enforced because of the apartheid that was still raging in the African country.
It was precisely in 1995, indeed, following the abolition of that regime that the Springboks team (so-called from the name of the antelope that appears in the coat of arms) was able to host an edition of the World Cup which has become historic.
That edition ended with the hosts’ victory in the final after extra-time against the All Blacks, during a game that was also featured in the cinema by Clint Eastwood in Invictus.
The most representative players of the team that plays in the green jersey have been, in recent years, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana (who also holds the absolute record of goals for the national team), Morné Steyn, and Jaque Fourie.
He plays the Rugby Championship annually – the aforementioned heir to the Tri-Nations – which started in 2012 and has never yet won, finishing second twice.
Six Nations Champions
If New Zealand and South Africa are clearly the two strongest national teams on the world rugby scene, the situation behind them is more convulsive.
In fact, Ireland, England, and Wales compete for third place in the rankings match after match, while Australia – the historic national team, of which we will talk – is immediately behind them, ready to take advantage of every moment of uncertainty of the British Isles representatives.
Currently, in third place in Ireland, a team that has the characteristic of not representing only Eire, as happens in all other sports, but the whole Irish island, that is, including both the independent Republic and the part of Northern Ireland belonging to the United Kingdom.
If there have been numerous victories in the Six Nations – the prestigious tournament that brings together the national teams of the British Isles, France, and Italy -, the latest of which, very recent, in 2014 and 2015, the Irish team has never done too well at the World Cup, where she never managed to get through the quarter-finals.
Among the most famous players of recent years and still in business we must at least mention Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Tommy Bowe, and Jonathan Sexton.
4. England and Wales
The Hosts of the Next World Cup
We break our five-point rule – or rather, we force it in part – by uniting England and Wales in one paragraph, out of sheer geographical proximity.
In this way, we will leave a free place to also present Australia, the last great southern nation which, despite currently occupying the sixth position in the world ranking, undoubtedly deserves to be included in this list like the other representatives we have already presented.
On the other hand, England and Wales will jointly host the matches of the next World Cup: although the tournament is in fact organized by England, some matches will be played in Cardiff, in the Millennium Stadium.
The English national team has won the Six Nations and the tournaments that preceded it 36 times and managed to win the World Cup in 2003, reaching the final on two other occasions; his most celebrated players still in business are Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Chris Robshaw, Danny Cipriani, and Danny Care.
As for Wales, on the other hand, the national team has won the Six Nations / Five Nations / Home Championship 37 times, while in the World Cup it failed to go beyond a third place in the first edition of the World Cup, in 1987; among the most famous players inactivity, Michael Phillips, Jamie Roberts, Sam Warburton, and Leigh Halfpenny deserve to be mentioned.
The Wallabies and Their Crisis
In front of France and Argentina, the sixth place in the world rugby ranking is occupied by Australia, a prestigious national team that has won two World Cups (in 1991 and 1999) and that once again reached the final (in 2003), but which in recent years is experiencing a moment of partial fogging.
Nicknamed Wallabies, named after a local marsupial, and dressed in yellow t-shirts and green shorts, Australians have a long history of rivalry with their New Zealand cousins - who traditionally have greater strength, although in certain historical phases the Wallabies have managed to prevail. – and with South Africa.
With the latter, among other things, the trophies not won in the southern hemisphere by the All Blacks are shared almost equally.
The most important players of recent years have undoubtedly been George Smith, Matt Giteau, Stephen Moore, James O’Connor, and Drew Mitchell.
Since the introduction of the international ranking, which took place in 2003, Australia has never been below the sixth place it now occupies, while it has risen to second (never reaching the first) between 2004 and 2006 and between 2011 and 2013.