Predict the World Cup outcome from the world rugby rankings

Going into the 2011 Rugby World Cup, it's apparent that the betting markets are convinced that the host nation New Zealand will win the trophy. They are somewhat less certain about which nation will provide the strongest challenge to the All-Blacks. Perhaps a glance at the world rugby rankings could provide some clues.

The International Rugby Board (www.irb.com) collates all the latest scores from around the world to decide the rankings. They have New Zealand at the top of the table, with clear daylight between them and Australia and South Africa who have been tussling over second and third spot.

The rankings and home advantage should justify New Zealand's favourite status, but there are nagging doubts about the All-Blacks.  Despite their domination of the sport, they rarely show their best at World Cups. They haven't made a final since 1995, when they lost, and the only tournament they won was the inaugural one in 1987 when they also had home advantage.

Ranked number 2, Australia on paper should struggle to assert themselves against their dominant neighbours, but on the pitch might be another story.

South Africa, ranked 3, restored a little morale by winning their final Tri Nations match against New Zealand. They will rely on much the same group of players who won the last World Cup, but their hopes are a lot dimmer this time around.

Given the southern hemisphere domination, it is easy to forget that either England or France have featured in every World Cup final except 1995's. France are rated at number 4 in the rankings, but the betting markets slightly favour the world number 5 England's prospects.

If England can make it to a third successive final it would certainly upset the world rugby rankings, and reinforce the idea that sport is never an exact science.

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