Note: if you want to just see a (completely unofficial and experimental) European clubs ranking the table is at the bottom of this post.
Love them or loathe them, World Rugby’s rankings have become a regular talking point during international windows. Not just the preserve of boring stattos like myself, the rankings are now used for determining World Cup groups, so attract interest and speculation particularly ahead of the pool draws.
The choice of opposition and timing of international games can have a significant effect. A nation fielding a second-string side against a lower tier nation risks a big hit to their position; on the other hand regularly playing higher ranked teams may cause only a negligible loss of ranking points – but consistently losing those games means not gaining any points either. Summer tours in Lions years often see the former, Wales’ annual inability to beat Australia perhaps an example of the latter.
As in any league table, teams can find themselves rising and falling without having played, as other teams win and lose. The heavy weighting of World Cup games can shape the rankings for some time after a World Cup, which is probably intentional, but can sometimes seem to penalise teams who lose in the knock-out stages.
No ranking system is perfect and one obviously cannot take into account the often subjective context of each game. Despite its flaws, those of us with a predilection for stats and league tables can’t help but be drawn to them, as evidenced by the number of rankings calculators on the web.
The domestic season can be very different to the international. Line-ups are more changeable and upsets more common, as teams who’ve made trips to Siberia or a wet and windy Galway can attest. Losing international players for several weeks mid-season can have a large effect on some teams, less so on others. As a result, ranking positions seem less entrenched – there is no New Zealand to dominate the top spot year after year.
The table below represents a World Rugby style ranking system for European club teams from the start of the 2015/16 season to 18/03/2017. It is based only on games in the English Aviva Premiership, Guinness Pro 12, French Top 14, European Champions and European Challenge cups. Play-offs and knock-out rounds were given a higher weighting, as world cup games are for international teams.
The loss of international players to the Six Nations appears to have taken its toll on some clubs. Despite being a top 4 Premiership side, Bath have plummeted down the rankings after a loss to lowly Bristol and a home hammering from Wasps. The French big guns seem lower than expected – perhaps because of losses in European competitions, or perhaps because the Top 14 play more games during international windows. (Would the French care even if these rankings had a practical use?)
With more points awarded for league play-offs and knock-out stages it will be interesting to see how the rankings look in May. As one would expect, Saracens had a clear lead at the end of last season after their league and European cup double. If the Ospreys triumph in the Challenge Cup, will it give them an inflated ranking for what is essentially a second-tier tournament? Are the 3 domestic leagues really comparable in strength? What will become of Stade Français and Racing Metro 92? Will Zebre ever move off the bottom?
The above rankings were worked out using my code library here:
Image of Toulon fans by Alasdair Massie on flickr.
Image of a wet Ospreys vs Castres lineout by Marc on flickr.
World Rugby’s explanation of their ranking system here.