WALES HAVE MOVED above England and into fifth in the latest International Rugby Board world rankings.
On the back of winning the Triple Crown with a 19-12 victory over England in the Six Nations on Saturday, Warren Gatland’s men took another step toward world rugby’s top four.
Ireland remain in eighth place behind Argentina despite recording their first win in almost five months against Italy last weekend.
After losing to England in Cardiff in February 2011, Wales were ninth in the world, but a form run – including a Rugby World Cup semi-final spot – has helped them into fifth.
Wales have won nine of their last 13 Tests and could be in the top four if they beat Italy and France in their last two Six Nations outings and other results go their way.
Teams ranked in the top four at the end of the year will avoid each other when the draw for the pool stages for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, hosted by England, is done.
Gatland said he expected his team to continue improving, particularly several of his younger players.
“The significant turning point for us was the preparation for the World Cup, when we basically hammered home the conditioning and the fitness,” he said.
“England played really well against us and we needed to scramble in defence at times. I think we are going to be a good team.
We’ve got the attributes you are looking for to be a top-quality side – big, fast, good shape and reasonably skilful – so we’ve got a chance of being a really good side.
When you have got that starting point, you should expect to win a lot of games. We’ve also got younger players showing maturity beyond their years and they don’t have that fear factor at the moment.
New Zealand, Australia, France and South Africa remain the top four teams in the world, while Argentina, Ireland, Tonga and Samoa are behind sixth-ranked England.