Ranking the Best Rugby World Cup Teams (1999-2019)

As another wonderful Rugby World Cup came to an end, we took advantage of the opportunity to update the rankings of the best sides in the 20-team era.

The results? Not that surprising, with the top 5 teams consisting of the four nations that have won the title at least once in the last 6 tournaments, joined by a fifth team that has made the final twice, yet couldn’t get the job done.

How did we rank the teams?

1 point to making the quarterfinals and losing | 2 points for making the semifinals and losing | 3 points for making the final and losing | 5 points for winning the championship

5th. France: 12 points

France Beats Wales
Image vis Rugby World Cup website

The only side in this ranking without the trophy. On the other hand, the French are the only Northern Hemisphere team to make the knockout stage in each of the last 5 World Cups.

France’s best performance is making the final – first in 1999, in a run that included their famous 43-31 win over the All Blacks in the semi final but getting crushed by Australia 32-12 in the final.

Their second final appearance came in 2011. The French side lost twice in the group stage, including getting thumped 37-17 by New Zealand, but clawed their way through the knockout stage with a 19-12 win against England and 9-8 vs Wales. This led to a rematch with the All Blacks, losing 8-7. France hasn’t been past the QF in the last two World Cups.

4th. England: 13 points

Jonny Wilkinson
Image via Rugby World Cup site

It’s been impressive for England in the 20-team era of the World Cup. Three finals, just like Australia (more than both South Africa and New Zealand), but also failing to get out of the group stage in 2015 while hosting the tournament. The peak is obviously 2003, when Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in extra time won it against Australia in the Aussie’s back yard. Both of their final losses came against South Africa – in 2007 and 2019.

3rd. Australia: 15 points

Australia 1999 Champions
Image via Rugby World Cup site

Australian Rugby Union peaked in the 1990’s, and their golden era ended in 2003 with the loss to England. Four years earlier the Wallabies beat France led by Matt Burke’s kicking (scoring 7 penalties in that final).

It’s been up & down since, with the final in 2003 and again in 2015, although most would argue that without a terrible officiating mistake in the quarter final vs Scotland, their tournament would have ended much sooner.

2nd. South Africa: 16 points

South Africa 2019
Image via Rugby World Cup site

Three time world champions, including twice in the 20-team era. The Springboks just put together an impressive, powerful tournament capped off by demolishing England in the final. A tournament which began by losing 13-23 to New Zealand in the group stage, avoiding a rematch thanks to England.

12 years earlier South Africa were perfect in their run to the title. In the tournament hosted by France, the Springboks were perfect in the group stage (which included England) followed by super dominant performances vs Fiji, Argentina and against England in the final.

Aside from the titles, South Africa also has a 1999 and 2015 semifinal to its name.

1st. New Zealand: 17 points

New Zealand 2015 Champions
Image via Rugby World Cup site

Edging the Springboks by one point, the All Blacks too have two championships to boast (2011, 2015). The extra point comes from making the semi final or further every time except for 2007 when France beat them 18-20 in the quarter final.

New Zealand recaptured the Webb Ellis trophy in 2011 for the first time in 24 years, hosting the tournament and going undefeated wire-to-wire, despite not looking that impressive in the final against France.

Their finals performance four years later against Australia (34-17) was far more dominant. Not surprisingly, their biggest test came against South Africa in the semi final, holding the Springboks to 0 tries but still going through with a narrow 2-point win (20-18).

An interesting tidbit regarding New Zealand: Three of the four times they haven’t won the tournament, their demise came at the hands of a Northern Hemisphere team. Only once (in 2003) was it against a Rugby Championship co-member.

Full ranking

  1. New Zealand: 17 points
  2. South Africa: 16 points
  3. Australia: 15 points
  4. England: 13 points
  5. France: 12 points
  6. Wales: 7 points
  7. Argentina: 6 points
  8. Ireland, Scotland (tied): 4 points
  9. Fiji, Japan (tied): 1 points