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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 06:43 GMT
Home fire burning?
By Bryn Palmer

If New Zealand have proved their number one status in world rugby these past few weeks, what of the rest?

Is the 2007 World Cup a foregone conclusion, or is there hope on the horizon for the northern hemisphere?

CURRENT IRB WORLD RANKINGS
1: New Zealand (Rating: 93.82)
2: South Africa (88.76)
3: France (86.10)
4: Australia (83.93)
5: England (83.27)
6: Wales (82.54)
7: Ireland (80.03)
8. Argentina (78.16)
9. Scotland (73.60)
10. Fiji (73.11)
France's victory over South Africa on Saturday saw a European team return to the top three in the world rankings for the first time since December 2004, the French nudging Australia into fourth.

The last month has also seen England leap-frog Wales into fifth place, while Scotland have moved up a place to ninth.

But rankings aside, where has the autumn series left the four home nations ahead of the RBS Six Nations in the new year?

We assess who shone, who stuttered, and who has work to do before the tournament kicks off on 4 February.

ENGLAND

Star performer: Andrew Sheridan. Sale's man mountain made a huge impression in helping destroy Australia's scrummage. He didn't find the All Blacks pack so accommodating, but his emergence has given England a notable weapon to develop.

Honourable mentions: Charlie Hodgson, Steve Borthwick, Pat Sanderson.

November high: Totally dominating Australia up front, although the narrow defeat against New Zealand was arguably a better performance.

November nightmare: Moody blues. Lewis Moody's flailing right hand against Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi, his Leicester team-mate, saw him banned for nine weeks. But fortunately for the player and for England, he'll be available for the Six Nations.

Could do better: The backline. With so much ball, England created precious little. More cohesion, creativity and composure required.

Six Nations prediction: Second

IRELAND

Star performer: Andrew Trimble. The Ulster centre partially off-set the absence of injured captain Brian O'Driscoll with a strong debut against Australia and two well-taken tries against Romania.

Honourable mentions: Neil Best, Tommy Bowe, Johnny O'Connor.

November high: Nothing of note. Six tries against Romania were hardly cause for spontaneous celebration in Dublin.

November nightmare: Getting battered by the All Blacks' 'second string' side. The way they surrendered a winning position against Australia was also pretty depressing.

Could do better: All over the field. The pack is struggling to exert any authority, while the backs are no great shakes without the talismanic O'Driscoll.

Six Nations prediction: Fourth

SCOTLAND

Star performer: Sean Lamont. The Northampton wing is developing into one of the most exciting runners in Europe. A big man who is hard to stop, with pace and swerve to boot.

Honourable mentions: Jason White, Scott Murray, Ali Hogg.

November high: Drawing the second half against New Zealand. Took the game to the All Blacks impressively.

November nightmare: Conceding a controversial late penalty try to lose to Argentina after playing some fine rugby. Struggling to suppress Samoa was also pretty dour.

Could do better: Finishing power. Still lacking a cutting edge to supplement all the pack's hard work. May need to replace the limited Dan Parks at fly-half.

Six Nations prediction: Fifth.

WALES

Star performer: Gareth Thomas. The captain has matured into a world-class operator, adding a cutting edge in attack, a steadying presence in defence and a positive influence on the whole squad.

Honourable mentions: Colin Charvis, Rhys Thomas, Chris Horsman.

November high: Beating Australia for the first time since 1987, and in the process rediscovering the style which thrilled the rugby world in last season's Six Nations.

November nightmare: Opening night. The contest between the Six Nations and Tri-Nations champions proved anything but. Struggling to a one-point win over Fiji was also grim fare.

Could do better: Consistency. Wales were missing half-a-dozen Lions and it showed. But the set-pieces came good against Australia, and the rest usually follows.

Six Nations prediction: Third


SEE ALSO
France 26-20 South Africa
26 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Wales 24-22 Australia
26 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
England 40-3 Samoa
26 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Scotland 10-29 New Zealand
26 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Ireland 43-12 Romania
26 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Scotland 18-11 Samoa
20 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Ireland 14-30 Australia
19 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Wales 16-33 South Africa
19 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
England 19-23 New Zealand
19 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Scotland 19-23 Argentina
12 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Ireland 7-45 New Zealand
12 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
England 26-16 Australia
12 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Wales 11-10 Fiji
11 Nov 05 |  Six Nations
Wales 3-41 New Zealand
05 Nov 05 |  Six Nations


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